No more lost luggage? Gadget can help track your bag

Written by By Staff Writer

That feeling of being unable to enjoy flights can be an all-too familiar one — and could soon be eradicated with new, highly portable tags.

Along with a host of other things, such tags could point you to the nearest KFC, toilet and airplane restrooms — and, if all goes according to plan, safely prepare you for air travel should you ever catch a cold.

“The goal is to track everything that happens within an aircraft,” says Ryan Furlong, an engineer and aviation consultant with Aerodigital, the company behind the tags.

A colorful line drawing shows how Aerodigital’s self-tracking tags could track your food, clothing and hotel stay — as well as your plane journey. Credit: Aerodigital

Within the small, electronic tags, Aerodigital has installed an antenna and sensor arrays — similar to that used to track microwaves — capable of tracking every drop of liquid that leaves or enters an aircraft, from the can of Pepsi and buttons on a shirt to the soap or toilet paper used.

“We focus on carrying out so many activities to support an aircraft and having lots of stuff left behind on board — food, paper towels, fresh towels,” says Furlong. “And being able to track all of that stuff is absolutely critical.”

In addition to identifying items in flight, the company can also track the movement of luggage — tracking what travels where in flight and even what is removed in the air.

Contradictory theories

The tags are constantly updated with information about any changes, from ticketed seats to airports and airlines. Meanwhile, Aerodigital is collecting and tracking sensors from airlines across the world, designed to monitor temperature, noise and energy consumption within the aircraft.

“We think of aviation as a hydrocarbon intensive industry,” says Furlong. “If the aviation industry were all powered by renewable energy sources, it would have much more significant impacts.”

Next the company hopes to install its technology in some of the more accessible portable gadgets on our collective plane journeys.

Aerodigital’s luggage tags — seemingly full of guilt-free fliers. Credit: Aerodigital

“We might be able to tag the phone and leave it on a tray table,” says Furlong. “If someone isn’t happy with the food or water they’ve ordered, they could still check their bag by moving their phone and then leave it there.”

The tags also track fitness devices and other devices, as well as clothing.

While Aerodigital first set out to monitor aircraft activity, the company hopes that its technology might have a wider application in situations where passengers may not feel they are following company guidelines — or may not have their own devices to record information.

“It’s a choice of either following rules or following your own conscience,” says Furlong. “There is a huge responsibility on board to follow airlines’ procedures and pay attention to what they are saying. If everyone was watching what they were doing, air carriers would be in a lot better shape.”

Commercial drone operation rules published in late May bring aviation regulation a step closer to what is widely expected in the U.S. and UK (which already have guidelines in place).

Meeting U.S. standards

Crowning the strictest regulations in the world, the U.S. FAA currently demands an operator keep drones a distance of more than 400 feet from buildings, people and wildlife — and that passengers have possession of the drone if an incident occurs.

But several states and countries such as England, Italy and Japan have eased regulations to more relaxed standards — as have airlines, most recently Boeing.

“We encourage a balance, with strict regulations when air traffic could be at risk and relaxing rules to provide them with a better experience,” says Furlong.

This summer — as the first commercial drone-carrying cargo flight passes through Alcatraz Island in San Francisco — Aerodigital is due to roll out pilot tests of its luggage tags in the UK.

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