Australian AirBolt smart locks your luggage at a fraction of the price

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For the airborne traveler, feeling safe and secure pays dividends on productivity, so frequent business travelers are excited by a lot of the inventions that are making their luggage more intelligent. While a number of kickstarters focus on empowering your bags to charge your devices, relatively minor things like locks are also getting a makeover.

The Australian startup AirBolt is pushing its new Bluetooth-enabled, remotely-controlled lock on Kickstarter. Started with the forgetful traveler in mind, you can open your lock with the touch of an app instead of a standard combination. The lock will retail for $79.95 AUD or $59.95 USD, but is available for $55 AUD (about $39 USD) during the Kickstarter campaign, which launched today.

For the paranoid among us, they have more sophisticated ways of keeping your stuff locked. And just like other smart luggage companies, they keep track of the distance between you and the lock to make sure you know where it is or can report its theft immediately.

The company is the brainchild of founder and CEO Kabir Sidhu. Responding to our questions, Sidhu said that they are trying to open up their tech to developers to give it more capability.

“The AirBolt will have certain libraries open for developers to build and expand on its base feature set. So if you want, you can unlock your AirBolt using your voice,” Sidhu told Geektime.

They stress their accessibility and affordability: It works with most zipper sizes and is far cheaper than buying an entire smart luggage package. The lock has already cleared TSA approval, meaning that the TSA cannot simply break your lock for inspection (outside of, say, a security situation). If the NSA does go in, the lock will log every time it is opened so you know immediately if your bag caught their eye.

“The idea came after a bad experience with an expensive TSA approved travel lock that wouldn’t open for me,” Sidhu said in a press release. “Somehow the combination on it changed when the lock got knocked around and I had no way of cutting open the lock easily. I began thinking that there just has to be a better way of securing your luggage. There is no reason why a travel lock shouldn’t be able to capitalize on today’s technologies to make traveling with luggage a little more stress-free.”

Melbourne’s startup ecosystem

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 29: Iconic Flinders Street Station was completed in 1910 and is used by over 100,000 people each day. Photo Credit: Neale Cousland /
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 29: Iconic Flinders Street Station was completed in 1910 and is used by over 100,000 people each day. Photo Credit: Neale Cousland / Shutterstock

It’s the story of a small Australian company with six employees (seven if you include Chief Visionary Officer and probably team mascot Popcorn the dog) that hopes to bypass the high cost of smart luggage. While AirBolt isn’t offering luggage set with hidden power packs and USB chargers, they might be hitting on a more important consumer concern: security. The company is entirely self-funded, though that could change if the Kickstarter takes off.

“I personally, until now worked on AirBolt at night and another full-time job during the day in order to ensure there was enough funding for the design and development of the product,” Sidhu relayed to us. “Other funds have been obtained via investments which I have sold in order to ensure there is an enough capital in the business.”

The AirBolt is flying out of a town that is awash in talent but with limited resources. The Melbourne startup ecosystem is the second largest in Australia, though still far behind the Sydney scene, according to a report by Deloitte. Development in Melbourne “hasn’t been easy” and grants are often hard to come by, Sidhu said, but the ecosystem in the town still has a ways to go.

“Nevertheless, if you look hard enough, there is enough support out there and a growing amount of networking and mentoring events coming up day by day,” he emphasized. “Over time, we see and hope that more startups and innovation continue to foster in Australia and we’d love to be able to drive innovation at AirBolt as well.”

“Melbourne, in fact Australia, has an extreme amount of talent and engineering experience. However, development in Melbourne hasn’t been easy. Whilst there are resources, we would say they are limited comparatively to more startup friendly countries like the U.S.”

Getting smart with your luggage

Photo Credit: AirBolt Kickstarter
Photo Credit: AirBolt Kickstarter

Their only true competitor is eGeeTouch, which uses near field communication (NFC) instead of Bluetooth and is only available on Android, whereas AirBolt is also available to iOS. Companies like BluesmartTrunksterBarracuda and Travel-Light and its G-RO smart luggage provide variations of security and geolocation technology, though for a bigger price tage.

That range also applies to security and accessibility. Only the owner’s phone can open the lock and only if it is within a specified range of the bag. The company anticipates you might lend out the lock, so it opens access to an exclusive list of people and if you are lending the lock out, you can change the settings to open it from abroad. Another combo forces the owner to open it simultaneously with their app while holding the lock’s release button. There is also an optional pass code that can be entered by click pattern on the device itself.

The lock is designed to have a pretty much eternal shelf life. It only needs to be charged once a year, but should last 500 charge cycles. The company wasn’t able to offer a real shelf life when we asked. Going on what they’ve said, the only way the lock should stop functioning is if future designs of apps became theoretically incompatible with the technology. That isn’t to say they implied the lock would be passed on generation to generation.

“When we designed the AirBolt one of the main criteria’s for it was that we wanted it to be as durable and last as long as any other travel lock out there if not more so. Adding all these features and electronics shouldn’t impact durability,” Sidhu noted.

The lock still has a ways to go before it reaches the palm of your hand. It won’t reach customers until August 2016, so AirBolt is putting in the last minute touches now before its campaign conceivably takes off: it has a ways to go in reaching its $50,000 AUD goal. Thankfully it has 44 days to do so.

“While technology continues to advance rapidly, some basic necessities, like baggage locks, continue to frustrate anxious travelers,” the company reminds possible customers on its site, its Kickstarter page, and in its PR.

AirBolt was founded by CEO Kabir Sidhu and lists six other main staff on its website (including Popcorn the dog). They are located in Melbourne, Australia and hope to get the first shipments out of their smart lock by August 2016.

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