Friday 9 March 2018

Real World IOT that happened in 2017 and will grow 2018 - Smart Luggage

This is the second in a series of entries on IOT in the real world that impact people's lives directly, i.e. what is not just a predicability of the future, but things that are going to happen! smart luggage has been a while in the making, with the big brands dabbling for years, however as they have appeared on kickstarter successes already; mainstream will finally dig out their initiatives, dust them down and follow. If they don't, you know where to spend your money doing it yourself or buying from the likes of G-Ro.
OK not a great photo, but here you see the G-Ro, plus tracker, and wi-fi hotspot set-up set-up myself.
Why is this important? Well, we have all heard of smart fridges, etc. however there are two problems with the smart fridge:
  1. fridges are large "white goods" that are unlikely to be on kickstarter
  2. Fridges fall very, very heavily into the corporate dilemma above, where staff in organisations that make fridges are no longer rewarded for innovation. In fact sometimes quite the opposite, cost reduction, conformity and who is longest in the office sucking up to their boss will never create innovation.
I am sure that after using a smart fridge, for now at least, we kind of are ok or even happier with our “just as we want it” premium fridge, or in fact just a fridge. The difference of real world IoT is when you try something and know you can never go back, no matter how premium your non msart version is. Great examples ate smart watches. I have had versions, and not all of them were quite there, I had various garmin devices: 310xt, 910xt, Fenix 2, however once I put the Fenix 3 on, my premium swiss chronograph never went on again. The same, if not moreso, happened with smartphones.

Why smart luggage?

I travel a lot, both personal and business, and have always spent the extra to have decent luggage. By decent I do not overly expensive… in many places arriving with expensive luggage that is like screaming “follow me from the airport and mug me”, but in that the luggage has decent wheels, zips, compartmentalisation and built to last the rough and tumble of travelling without arriving like some luggage you see with a wheel missing, or a wayward handle or weighs half your weight allowance before you have even packed it. Despite being descent, This has meant sometimes fixing my own luggage, I have preplaced wheels whose bearings have worn out, handle pins that broke and even a handle… but the quality of a good Samsonite or Antler superlight luggage mean its all fixable wherever you may find yourself on this globe.
After peace of mind, the biggest advantage of smart luggage is saving time on arrival

Saving time on arrival

One of the biggest benefits of smart luggage is its saving time on arrival and smart luggage does this in a few ways:
  1. If your luggage is lost, by the time you land it will tell you and you do not have to wait until everybody has left the conveyor and there is a 2 hour queue of other people with lost luggage in front of you. It also saves time again, as usually when you report lost luggage it takes them a day or more just to work out where it is: you can tell them its in terminal X y airport y from the off and you get your bags back way earlier
  2. Proximity, proximity is amazing as more or less, and with a certain margin of error, its able to sense a) when your luggage has arrived outside the conveyor, and b) by if its close by, again leaving your time to catch-up with all things mobile notifications related before your luggage arrives
  3. Other errors. Sometimes your back says its in the right airport but your, or luggage staff can see its gone to the wrong conveyor... this last happened to me arriving back to heathrow at nearly11pm... the staff said you can either wait about an hour or we will send it to you tomorrow... that was an easy choice!
  4. Being shipped back: when your luggagesis being shipped back to you, you are not at the mercy of the courieror 3rd party updates that arrive an hour or a few after the event. As your luggage leaves the airport you know it, and if like once they cannot, or pretend they cannot find you to go home early... then you say: I can see you are just around the corner, do me a favour and do your job. Yes that has happened... and not just once!
You can even track your luggage as it makes its way via courier back to you after delivery to the wrong airport!

Battery Life

One of the issues with trackers is that they tend to be built to a price, and that price does not seem to run to batteries... While high end ones I have built myself or been part of specifying for clients have higher end batteries that have higher power, and are consistent (one batch of cheaper trackers that were specified to have 700mah batteries had 200mah, 400 may and 500mah across the first three tested)!

On that note I have taken to using lithium or high end rechargeable batteries on the trackdots, although for some reason they say not to (one assumes that network resources hurt profits, but again we have a solution for that which we worked out for a customer). The best, and most responsible, solution is rechargeable, with 2100mah Panasonics managing up to 10 days across 5 airports recently.
With rechargeable batteries (not recommended by manufacturer) the track dot can manage 10 days tracking, two of those it was awake in a car highlighting all the airports on the way :)

Requirements to DIY smart luggage.

There are basically, from I can work out from my own needs and those of people I travel with, as well as what G-RO are productising:
  1. Location
  2. Power
  3. Hotspot/connectivity

Trackdot, etc was my first port of call for location.

Trackdot and the G-Ro devices which is a rebranded lug track I believe, are very slick at what they do, but I cannot help but see it as a one trick pony with limitations. First the good: its very slick: you turn it on with one button, and track through a simple app, though you do need to read the manual. The apps are simple, though, despite pioneering Bluetooth since its inception, and having one an innovations award in 2001 for stretching its limits, I could not get the trackdot thing to connect via Bluetooth.

My second port of call for location was using certain MiFi devices with GPS in the chipset, which allow you to access the location; however, like the cheap GPS devices from Alibaba, ebay, etc: when you arrive at an airport you want to just open an app and see where your luggage is, not a web page or web pages... this is 2018...
Bad: cannot be waken from sleep remotely (at least not to consumers), does not have GPS for real tracking of needed, AA batteries and no micro-USB mean no way to back-up / extend batteries (yes I am aware AA are readily available, but not always within time restrictions of business / flight schedules). This is how I started using rechargeable batteries despite the warnings not to, as I stole the two batteries from my DSLR camera Flash!

Power The next category is power, which is a bit more difficult.

Whilst there are a plethora of batteries out there, there are a few things to bear in mind. 

  1. power; over 27,000mah and its considered a fire risk by most countries, so avoid building a portable generator :)
  2. more importantly, how it wakes up: most require you to pres a button or insert the USB cable into the battery to wake up, which means you cannot bury the battery at the bottom of your case behind the lining out of the way. The best for this is the white tp-link 21000 battery usb one from the image above of the suitcase - whenever you plug something into a cable on the end it charges... and will not turn off if the draw is too low on the wifi router.
  3. charge and be charged. Many devices can either charge or be charged, which when travelling is not always ideal and means more devices

The one that comes with the G-Ro is quite good, but its heavy, only has two USB ports, a charger you do not normally travel with, but moreover its tablet format means its constantly being stopped in security, which is very not good as it wastes time you will never, ever get back!

The Anker usb-c Battery ones are solid alloy and well built, and some have usb-c, but they cannot charge and be charged.

Rav power make a 26,800mah one, but it needs the button be pressed to activate.

One of the main reasons for having batteries that can be charged while charging, is that you can use them as a charge point in the hotel, and also when out and about in good sunlight, you can solar power your smart luggage, and complete your off the grid, ready for anything collection!

Wifi access point. 

So this is not in the G-Ro but is not difficult to add either with a wifi or a dongle and a router, which has more uses when travelling as you can use it as a bridge for hotel / airport wifi. Since 2014 many Huawei MiFIs also have this built in, as do others. You can always use a second handset, which I often also carry as a back-up anyway, but they can get very, very hot in luggage!

Huawei has two devices, the E576 and the E5772, the former 3G and the latter 4G. There are others, however these devices have both GPS and can handle SIM toolkit, so will work with all types of SIMs, including my own IoT MVNE Company Conecto SIMs with multiple IMSIs.