Don’t like the idea of low-speed cruising on top of your luggage through the airport terminal? Good news — someone interpreted the future of luggage in a more understated way. The Cowarobot R1 is a rolling robotic suitcase that follows you around, hands-free. It’s about to be a lot easier to drink coffee at the airport.
The Cowarobot R1 (pronounced co-wa-ro-bot — don’t let your mind jump to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles like mine did) is, first and foremost, a high-quality piece of luggage. It’s a 20″, 33-liter suitcase with an aluminum frame and a 100 percent polycarbonate exterior, so it’s built to hold up to the hazards of shifting contents in overhead compartments. But, packed into that sturdy frame are several sensors that turn the suitcase into a robotic travel buddy that stays by your side, obstacles or no.
I was able to talk to the team over Skype about what makes the R1 go — and stop, if necessary. An electric motor can propel the R1 at a max speed of 4.5 miles per hour, and the suitcase can travel 12.5 miles on a single charge. The key is a small wristband that comes with the suitcase, which is outfitted with a wide band radio module. The suitcase and wristband communicate with each other, which allows the suitcase to go where the wristband is — while some products (like this hover drone) use cameras and algorithms sophisticated enough to follow a person using object recognition, that’s not necessarily the right solution here. Instead, the suitcase has several embedded sensors, including sonar, cameras, depth-sensing cameras, light sensors, and a GPS chip.
The GPS chip is the main way the suitcase keeps track of where it is relative to you. So, not only can the R1 be made to follow you, it can come find you if you’ve accidentally left it behind. Cowarobot has a companion app (Android and iOS) that will allow users to track their suitcase and summon it, if necessary. The cameras and sonar on the suitcase enable it to detect the presence of obstacles and calculate how far away those obstacles are — kind of like a Roomba! This also ensures that an overly eager R1 doesn’t send itself hurtling down a flight of stairs while trying to track you down, although we’re guessing that getting the R1 to reliably navigate a busy airport is going to be extremely challenging.
But, simply using the R1 to follow you closely is a much easier task. It’d be awesome for frequently travelers, because some of us aren’t coordinated enough to drink coffee with one hand and tow around their suitcase with the other (definitely talking about a friend, not myself). I was able to check out a demo of a prototype of the R1 following one of the engineers through the lab — it works, and the turn radius is pretty good! And, if you want to pull your rolling suitcase the old-fashioned way, just grabbing the handle automatically shuts down autonomous mode.
The team made a few shrewd design choices that make it a little more practical than the scooter-like Modobag. It weighs 10.6 pounds empty, which should make it viable when traveling on airlines that put weight restrictions on carry-on bags. The internal battery can be easily popped out if you’re worried that it’ll raise issues going through the security scanner, and has the additional benefit of being a formidable external battery pack — the team told me it’s big enough to charge an iPhone 6 Plus nine or ten times over. That battery power can be used when the battery is in the suitcase, too, thanks to USB ports on the outside covered with weather-resistant flaps.
It’s a pretty good suitcase in its own right, too. Aside from the sturdy construction, there’s a one-touch open front compartment for easy access to a laptop or tablet (again, handy when going through security) and a heavy-duty twist lock on the main compartment that can be opened using the companion wristband. That’ll keep your stuff safe, but as a practical measure, they’ve also included an electronic lock that the TSA can access in case you check the R1 and it ends up in line for inspection.
Cowarobot launched their Indiegogo campaign today and have already collected over $90,000 toward their $100,000 funding goal. The R1 is currently still available as an early bird backer reward for $430, with a retail price of $700 planned. The suitcase is available in pink, black, blue, and silver, and the first units are expected to ship out this October.