While listening to my favorite news program yesterday, I learned about the high-tech evolution of the humble suitcase: now you can look forward to luggage that propels itself. ForwardX and several tech companies debuted the self-driving suitcases at CES in Las Vegas. You no longer need to struggle with a heavy bag on tiny wheels--the luggage in question will simply follow you through the airport and can be controlled via an app on your phone.
This represents perhaps the pinnacle of innovation for luggage--and it was almost always inevitable. And, sadly, may be more akin to re-arranging the deck chairs as the Titanic sinks.
The Case For Propelled Luggage.
Innovators are always encouraging entrepreneurs to discover and understand customer needs. Therefore, it makes sense to consider the facts about luggage. First, many people travel and use luggage. Second, it is often bulky and heavy, so helping people move their luggage more effectively makes sense. Lastly, we got luggage on wheels, and now luggage that propels itself. It all makes sense, right? However, this conclusion flies in the face of several countervailing trends and realities.
Imagine There's No Luggage.
There are several realities that may signal the approaching end of luggage. First, airlines are doing everything they can to discourage you from bringing luggage on board, charging for checked baggage, and limiting overhead space. Second, airports are not friendly to luggage, creating long concourses filled with people and more shopping malls than easy access to gates. Increasingly, it won't really matter whether you carry, drag, or have your luggage follow you around. Because the airlines and the airports are increasingly unfriendly to luggage--and let's not get into the questions TSA will have with motors and batteries in luggage.
Fighting The Last War.
The military has a phrase for this kind of thinking, often meant disparagingly. It is: fighting the last war. What they mean is that we often prepare for the event, war, or market need that just recently happened--not understanding that the next war will be different. In the case of luggage, I'm for the opinion that many of us will increasingly find ways to avoid using luggage if, at all possible, using solutions like FedEx or UPS to ship clothing or necessary articles rather than fight our way through the airport with luggage.
What We Can Learn From Self-Propelled Luggage.
Self-propelled luggage demonstrates the right kind of thinking by attempting to solve an apparent customer need, but does so in a way that ignores other market factors and trends. This is perhaps the penultimate luggage innovation--or to continue military metaphors--a bridge too far. Rather, we should be considering how to eliminate luggage altogether since the airlines, airports, and security services would prefer that. It would make travelers lives much easier.
Innovators and entrepreneurs need to understand customer needs but balance those needs and expectations with trends, economic and societal shifts, and emerging barriers or substitute solutions. Getting too focused on customer needs without considering these other factors may lead to interesting innovations that have little value.