Travel

Robotic Luggage Doesn't Deliver


Robotic Luggage Doesn't Deliver

Courtesy Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez/Youtube

A 28-year-old Spanish inventor by the name of Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez has been burning up the Internet with a video of his self-propelled, robotic carry-on suitcase, which is called the Hop! (the exclamation point is technically part of the name, but as with Yahoo!, this will be the first and last time I use it).

The Hop is just a prototype at this point. It’s designed to track a Bluetooth signal from a smartphone and use its onboard “caterpillar system” (not to be confused with the caterpillar drive of the Red October submarine) to move itself just a few feet behind its owner. It’s an interesting concept—and, hey, who doesn’t like a video of a little robotic box following you around?—but I think it’s sort of bunk. Here’s why:

Space—For starters, the caterpillar system is hidden within the body of the suitcase. That makes sense from an overhead-compartment point of view (you don’t want gears and tracks sticking out in close quarters), but it means that the interior space of the luggage is necessarily compromised. Tellingly, no photos of the Hop’s interior seem to exist.

Balance—The suitcase shown in the demo shimmies around as if it doesn’t have much packed inside, but what happens when you stuff it full of clothes and 3-ounce liquid containers? Since the Hop travels on the short side of its rectangular shape, it’s taller than it is wide, which seems potentially unstable. If it’s top-heavy as well, won’t the Hop tip over like a boozy patron at the Runway Bar in Terminal 2?

Crowds—People who trail luggage behind them are already a nuisance and a hazard in airports (particularly those with the longer, leash-style luggage). The Hop seems like a great bag to have trot behind you if you’re in an airport with only four other people, but have you been to an airport lately? It seems unrealistic to think you will blithely stroll down to your gate while your robotic sherpa dutifully tags along with nary a run-in or snag. And what happens if someone is going full O.J. to get to their gate and eats it on your little R2-D2 skycap? No. Also, kids will totally tip that thing over.

Weight—Maybe I’m wrong, but doesn’t adding the running gear from Johnny 5 to the bottom of a suitcase make it heavy? It’s less of a problem when the Hop is propelling itself, but what happens at that critical moment when you have to lift it up into or out of an overhead compartment? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a problem for me—like most tech writers born on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, I’m all muscle—but I worry for the weaker people out there.

I don’t mean to rain on the Hop’s parade. Actually, yes, I do. It’s one thing to create a mildly entertaining video that displays a concept that is intriguing at first glance. But if you don’t even address some of these issues (to say nothing about the lack of price and availability information), what’s really the point?

As for me, I’ll be sticking with my Samsonite with the spinning wheels. Twisting my bag through narrow openings in crowded airports? That’s a real innovation.

Grobart is a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek and the managing editor of Bloomberg Digital Video. Follow him on Twitter @samgrobart.

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