I've never driven a car. I've also never ridden a scooter, a moped, a Segway or even one of those stupid "hoverboard" things with the combustible batteries. But I do travel a lot, usually with a bit of luggage, and one thing I absolutely hate are those long walks across an airport terminal. So when the Modobag, a $1,199 piece of kit that bills itself as the world's first motorized suitcase hit Indiegogo, I was intrigued. Would it get me across an airport faster, or would I just crash into a luggage cart and get myself arrested?
The Modobag measures 22 x 14 x 9 inches -- just the right size to fit into the overhead bins on most aircraft. That's key, since it won't do you much good if you can't keep it with you past check-in. The bag can officially accommodate a rider up to 260 pounds, though the company says if you can fit on it comfortably you should be good to ride. To use it, you just need to open the front panel, pull the handle up and switch the bag's motor on. Push a small lever on the right to accelerate, and grip the brake with your left to stop. That's it: There's no special instruction needed to figure out the Modobag. However, it would be a good idea to practice a bit before taking it to the airport, as slamming into a ticket kiosk is not the ideal way to start your vacation.
The polyurethane wheels are similar to skateboard wheels, so they can handle a few bumps in the road. But the Modobag is definitely not an all-terrain vehicle. During my test run I rolled onto a few subway grates and ended up having to pick up the suitcase and reposition it on a smoother surface. That's not an ideal solution, but it's also easily avoidable if you stick to smooth hallways and paths -- the same places you'd pull a rollerboard bag anyway.
For those situations where you can't ride the Modobag, it can be easily turned around and pulled by its handle. In fact, it's a normal piece of luggage in a lot of ways. There's a large interior compartment that can accommodate a few nights' worth of clothing, and side pockets to slip your laptop and phone into while you ride. It's pretty durable thanks to ABS plastic; it can even survive being hit by bowling balls.
Indeed, that's expected of any piece of baggage, and the Modobag hits all the points necessary to be approved by the TSA, FAA and ITA. That endorsement also includes its battery: Unlike a "hoverboard," the Modobag is fully cleared for flight. It takes about an hour to charge and can last about 8 miles -- assuming mostly smooth terrain and an average 180-pound passenger. The suitcase also includes two USB ports so you can use the motor's battery to top off your phone or tablet between flights, avoiding the need to search for a free outlet at the gate.
Though the Modobag can fit in the cabins on most planes, there still might come a time when you must check your luggage; always a risky proposition, especially when the Modobag costs so much. For that reason you can order one with GPRS-GSM tracking, allowing you to peep your bag's location on a map. Are you on a plane but the bag is still somewhere in the terminal? Did the baggage handlers decide to take the Modobag for a spin? You'll know if your luggage has gone on a trip without you just by checking the app -- and even have it send you a proximity alert when it travels too far.
But you're going to want to keep the Modobag around. It's nice to be able to get off your feet and let your bag do the work of getting you places, whether it's in an airport terminal or on a college campus. I did notice my legs got a bit fatigued after a few minutes of riding, probably from trying to keep my feet on the small pegs. But you won't be riding long enough for it to be a problem, and it's a minor concern compared to a pair of tired feet. The seat itself is comfortable, and I didn't feel like I was going to fall off it.
The Modobag in action is spritely, and the simple controls meant I was zipping up and down Broadway within minutes. There were plenty of tourists to dodge, but I never felt like there was real danger of slamming into any of them -- the bag's braking is excellent, and in real emergencies you can always pull a Fred Flintstone and use your feet to stop. My biggest challenge was mastering the art of the lean so I can make those tight turns -- that was the only time I felt there was any danger of falling over, as I sometimes threw my weight the wrong way. If you already know how to ride a scooter or motorcycle, the Modobag should be a natural fit -- which makes sense, because Modobag's chief mechanical engineer, Boyd Bruner, is actually a competitive motorcyclist.
Lots of the tourists I zipped past ended up stopping to take pictures (and video) of the bag, and asked where they can buy one. While there are plans for retail, right now the only place to get a Modobag is Indiegogo. You can grab one this month for an early bird price of $995, or $1,199 for the standard pledge, discounted from a planned retail price of $1,295.
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