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Another IoT: The (Mobile) Internet of Travel

Here’s the road report on three new mobile ways to make travel smarter and more satisfying.

Regular readers know that my obsession with all things mobile doesn’t dampen when travel. I’m always looking for ways to make my travel smarter and my luggage lighter through mobile.

I’m just back from a ‘city break’ in Poland, taking in the sights and sounds of Warsaw and Kraków.

One of the worries when traveling is being burgled back home. In the past I’ve set up timer switches, but am totally paranoid that burglars are leaning on the lamppost across the street, making notes about the regularity of my illumination habits, and deducing that I’m long gone.

Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), I now have a web-enabled power switch for my home. Now I can, say, turn a lamp on and off via an app on my phone – even when I’m traveling. But we can do better than that. Combine the switch with IFTTT (if this then that) then you can be much smarter.

IFTTT enables you to create simple (but very effective) mashups (or as they call them - 'recipes') from internet services you already use. So you can use IFTTT to check the weather for your location, and if it is raining (or about to start), then it can send you a text message. Very nice.

IFTTT certainly isn’t the first. Yahoo launched Pipes back in 2007, and that name betrays a history that almost certainly goes back to Unix’s | pipe command. But what IFTTT certainly brings to the party is making a service that a lot of people can very easily grasp and use. Add to this that they’ve broken out of pure web with the ever-increasing support for IoT-enabled devices, and you have a very cool service.

So, back to stopping those pesky burglars with some recipes from IFTTT: How about: turn the lights on with sunset.


Or better still, use SMS (or in this case SMS and Siri) to toggle the light on and off.

Okay, so that’s sorted. What’s my next big worry? Ah yes, lost luggage.

Whilst I travel as light as I can, the combination of my cameras and lenses with Ryanair’s meagre luggage allowance means I need to check a bag. It’s a two-part challenge: one, to avoid losing my luggage, and two, if it’s lost, to recover it speedily as possible before I return to Blighty.

So on this trip I got to road test my latest gadget, Trakdot. It’s a luggage-tracking device that’s very simple to use: insert two AA batteries, register it, turn it on and put it in your luggage. It immediately sends an SMS letting you know where it is (there’s also an app and website for a map of the location). The device goes to sleep whilst in the air, and then texts you once it lands with the new location.

And as all bags look the same on the luggage carousel, Trakdot also includes a Bluetooth-based proximity function in the mobile app — so it buzzes as your bag is in front of you.

photo 4 blur

The SMS worked faultlessly (of course!), but the app failed to recognize my password, and so I had to reset it whilst queuing for passport control. Not the best user experience.

Additionally, as you can see from the screenshots, a relatively short flight used more than one third of the battery power, so you really need a fresh pair of batteries per flight (missing from this screengrab, it was down to 62% when I picked my bag of the carousel). And as you can’t use lithium-ion, that gets rather expensive quickly. It’s not great for the environment either.

photo 2 blur

Sidebar: Whilst the company website shouts repeatedly at you to not use lithium-ion they, and I forgot, that standard rechargeables are fine. So my Eneloops (which will charge via a USB doo-dah) will fit the bill. Phew.

Beyond these new additions to my travel toolset, I used my usual set of apps:

  • Foursquare, with a custom-created set of must-see locations (thank you Ania!)
  • TripIt for my itinerary
  • Passbook for hotel bookings
  • Citymapper to get me to/from the airport (in the UK)
  • Find My Friends to help my travel companions find each other if we get split up, and have no chance pronouncing the local street names.

So how was the trip? Well thank you for asking, but someone beat you to it. British Airways, my airline (for the flight out) was the first.

Just after I landed, I got a micro survey asking how the flight was. (See below.) Again, regular readers will know I’m a big fan of short and timely questionnaires about customer service. So I was very pleased to be able to respond — and give my feedback on the check-in process. (Having to attach your own luggage label is taking self-service a step too far! ☺)


All done in 3 SMS messages: simple, quick and unobtrusive.

Oh, and yes, to answer your question. I loved Poland, particularly Kraków, which is a very beautiful city.

Now to plan then next trip… wonder if there’s a new app for that?

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