Internet-connected “smart” suitcases have been the subject of media hype for several years thanks to press-savvy brands like BlueSmart Luggage, the company that claimed to be the original inventor of smart luggage.
BlueSmart got off the ground with $2.2 million raised through the crowdfunding site IndieGogo and the promise of a $400 suitcase that had more capabilities than a smartphone.
Less than a year ago, BlueSmart was featured in the New York Times, with chief executive Tomi Pierucci explaining that they preferred to be called a technology company, not a luggage company.
“We want to remind you to charge the suitcase the night before your trip,” he said of the company’s suitcases last July. “We want to offer you an Uber when your plane lands. We want to notify your hotel if your flight is delayed.”
The company reportedly sold at least 65,000 of its luxury bags.
But the smart luggage industry has been at a crossroads after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned shortly before Christmas last year that the lithium-ion batteries that make the technology possible are a major fire hazard.
Now, BlueSmart is going out of business, and people who purchased the expensive bags will not be receiving a refund. “The changes in policies announced by several major airlines at the end of last year—the banning of smart luggage with non-removable batteries—put our company in an irreversibly difficult financial and business situation,” BlueSmart explains.
BlueSmart recently wrote a letter to customers announcing the “bittersweet news.”
“This represents a very unfortunate outcome for everyone involved, and we are all very sorry for this unexpected turn of events,” the company says in the note on its website, adding that warranty support is no longer available for its products.
The luggage is only as smart as its connected app, of which the “service quality will be reduced in the future,” BlueSmart adds.
Last year, major airlines announced, per FAA regulations, that all “smart” luggage would be banned from getting anywhere near a plane unless the batteries could be removed from the bags. The regulations went into effect in January 2018.
FAA spokesman Gregory Martin told ConsumerAffairs at the time that the large lithium-ion batteries in smart bags posed an unacceptable safety risk because they were known to be flammable.
DOT denies company claims
However, BlueSmart continued insisting to consumers that the smart luggage ban would not apply to their own products. In a statement on their website, BlueSmart said late last year that “we have organized meetings with the world’s leading airlines to make sure that your Bluesmart will be approved.”
The company added in a statement to ConsumerAffairs last year that “DOT [the Department of Transportation] has already reviewed our products and all the technical documentation. The products passed all the necessary reviews and we are now waiting to get the formal letter of approval.”
But the FAA denied those claims and countered that there was no special review or exemption underway for BlueSmart.
While competitors like the company Raden sell bags with removable batteries, allowing consumers to temporarily turn their smart luggage into old-fashioned luggage so that they can bring it on a flight, BlueSmart’s batteries were built into the bags, making removing them without damaging the bag nearly impossible.