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Satellite Technology Feature Article

May 14, 2012

Towards Smarter Luggage, Travel Bags

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor


A recent travel tracking announcement by Iridium (News - Alert) and Voyage Manager has some thinking about preventing one of the biggest headaches/nightmares in any business or vacationer's portfolio: Lost bags and luggage. It's time for the luggage industry to team up with airlines and consumer electronics to create a solution for better bag tracking and location.

Voyage Manager has integrated Iridium's satellite-based tracking devices into its VM Travel Tracker and VM Locate services to monitor employees and assets around the globe. For companies which send people into "remote or potentially dangerous" locations, Voyage Manager provides a valuable safety service to follow both people and assets.

Most of us won't need a higher-end service like Voyage Manager, but we do travel enough that an occasional checked bag will be lost or even stolen. It's a matter of statistics; with an average of 1 in 150 people in the U.S. having checked bags misdirected or left behind each year, according to Wikipedia. 

Half of a percent of checked bags fail to show up at an airline baggage carousel, according to Unclaimed Baggage. Within five days, 98 percent of delayed bags have been found – but five days is a long time for a business traveler.  

Out of that "delayed bag" category, a bit more than one percent of delayed bags returns home during the next 90 days.

Let's face it: if you've had to wait 90 days to get your bag back, you've already bought a new suitcase and clothes. You're not too happy and the airline has taken a hit to its reputation.

When you check a bag, the airlines (or someone else, if it’s a third party like a hotel or a convention center service) stick a bar-coded tag (News - Alert) on it to provide routing. Some airports and airlines are printing combo tags including a cheap RFID tag, because sticker-based barcodes can be marred during the luggage handling process, but this is a slow process and everyone has a different idea how to do it.

If someone like the Consumer Electronics Association (News - Alert) would work with baggage manufacturers and the airline travel industry to incorporate two different technologies into luggage, maybe everyone can make Unclaimed Luggage's business shrink a bit.

The first technology would be simple: Incorporating a pair of unique passive RFID tags into each bag and include an associated unique tracking ID number for the purchaser. RFID doesn't require power. Embedded into a RF-transparent area of the suitcase, at least one of the two tags should last for the lifetime of the bag.  

Travelers would benefit because bags could be more efficiently tracked by the airline, while airlines would save money because they could simply barcode checked luggage, rather than adding the additional pennies/dimes per printed throw-away tag – so it's green as well – and airlines could provide a service for loyal customers by registering the RFID tag into a database to allow travelers to track the progress of their luggage.

Adding a more active technology to complement the passive one will take a bit more work and add expense. Perhaps go with a low-power DECT (News - Alert)-based solution, embedding a DECT chip with some simple flash memory storage. 

ULE (Ultra Low Energy) DECT is starting to appear in home security/monitoring solutions, and has been proposed for things like keychain fobs, so the price of adding a chip with onboard power would be reasonably simple.

But there's one issue to work around. Airline companies don't like random RF emitters on flying commercial aircraft (despite the fact at least a half dozen people don't turn off cell phones and other portable devices all the way on every flight). An embedded solution would not include a battery; instead there would be a low-power conduction solution with power provided at airport baggage check in.

You've already seen "wireless" power solutions for cell phones and other devices. Put power points on the bottom wheels of the luggage and incorporate the other part of the power "connector" into the scale. Information would be automatically transmitted between the bag and the kiosk, with the barcode tag automatically printed as a confirmation between passenger and attendant, so everyone in the transaction is happy. Take the bag of the scale, and the DECT device goes inert, insuring aircraft safety.




Edited by Braden Becker



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