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November 13, 2018

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Delayed rollout of robot luggage worries crowdfunding site

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Mick Akers

Travelmate Robotics’ suitcase automatically trails its owner when paired with a smartphone app.

Travelmate Robotics is being investigated by crowdfunding site Indiegogo after failing to produce a single suitcase to backers of its proposed autonomous suitcase.

The San Francisco-based startup has two separate campaigns through Indiegogo, raising almost $800,000 from nearly 1,400 backers. The suitcases range from $1,099-$1,495 depending on the size. Its distribution department is based in Las Vegas and the company is looking to relocate its main office here from Burlingame, Calif., said Maximillian Kovtun, its president.

The comments section of its first campaign page is filled with claims the company is a scam along with many refund demands. That campaign raised $790,123.

“There are never going to be any suitcases shipped anywhere,” said David Cope, in a comment left March 1. “The only thing that has moved in this whole campaign is your money into TMs (Travelmate’s) bank account. I would suggest you act quick if you want it back.”

Indiegogo officials said they’re aware of the issues and are looking into the matter.

“Indiegogo’s Trust & Safety team is currently investigating this campaign to ensure it is complying with Indiegogo’s Terms of Use,” an Indiegogo spokesperson said.

There are various dates of promised delivery ranging from January 2017 and February 2018 on the company’s two Indiegogo pages. Despite the latest updated delivery date being February, Kovtun said the delivery date has been postponed again.

“We have decided to delay shipment until April 2018 to make sure that mass production units are properly calibrated and assembled,” Kovtun. “This is likely very disappointing and frustrating to many of you. We completely understand, but as this is one of the first consumer robots to transition into mass manufacturing, it takes time for us to make sure that you are getting what we promised you. We do not want to send out a substandard product.

“We are 100 percent guaranteeing that we are going to ship all ordered units by the end of this April.”

Kovtun said that the majority of parts for the autonomous suitcase are from China, and unfortunately the Chinese New Year effectively shut down the country in February.

Aside from issues with product delivery, there is also concern from backers that the suitcase is actually autonomous.

“That suitcase looks like it’s being remote controlled," questioned ZhiCheng Zhen in a comment on a video posted on TravelMate’s Facebook page. “What happened to following the owner?”

Kovtun carried out a demonstration in December of the suitcase, controlling the suitcase by a joystick on a smartphone app. Kovtun said the suitcase didn’t work well autonomously in tight quarters.

Kovtun said its original Indiegogo sales have also closed, but its latest campaign is still open and accepting donations. That one sits at $8,903 through 22 backers.

“We’ve done this so that we finish fulfilling existing Indiegogo orders first before accepting additional orders,” he said.

Kovtun said the company is doing regular updates on Facebook, but there are not product delivery updates, just the latest product videos and news coverage.

“We are doing our best so that people will be happy when they receive their units,” Kovtun said. “Nothing like this has ever been made before and we want to make sure that people get a high-quality robot that functions as intended.”