Motorized suitcase saves your back

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SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. -- One of the challenges of traveling the world while continuing to work is that laptops, projectors, extra batteries and other gear can be heavy. And pulling a suitcase can be bad for your back. Finally, a well designed -- albeit expensive -- suitcase comes to the rescue.

On my recent two-month trip through Greece, one of the challenges I faced was getting all my stuff from one place to the next. After all, I was carrying all my clothes, all my gear, including two laptops, extra batteries and other heavy stuff and a whole bunch of things acquired along the way: Books, gifts for loved ones back home, you name it. My luggage had roughly doubled in weight from when I had left home.

It's not just the weight. I've found that the twisting motion involved in pulling a wheeled suitcase can be very bad for your back. The potential for injury is compounded by uneven

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sidewalks. I destroyed the handle on my brand-new suitcase -- and nearly wrecked my back, too -- pulling it through the cobblestone streets of Mykonos in search of a room.

Now, however, a small UK company called Live Luggage plans to start selling Thursday what it calls a power-assisted (PA) case. That's right, a motorized suitcase.

The suitcase uses several innovations that make 65 pounds of stuff handle like it weighs only 6.5 pounds. The first is, of course, its motors -- one in each wheel. It doesn't start rolling by itself, but uses "force sensors" to figure out when you're pulling it, then gives you help with the forward motion.

The second innovation is what the company calls an adjustable anti-gravity handle. This is a simple brace that leans the top of the suitcase back over the wheels, instead of forcing you to hold the top of the case up with your arm. The company says the handle design places 85 percent of the weight onto the wheels. Every suitcase should have this.

Third, the suitcase has relatively large "pan-cake" wheels, placed far forward. The wheels are solid and capable of supporting large loads. A flexible rim enables the suitcase to be pulled without damage over uneven surfaces (like the narrow streets of Mykonos).

The PA suitcase also has security features. First, each suitcase is assigned a unique registration code, with instructions on the handle to visit a special web site for people who find the bag. They simply enter in the code, and you get an automated e-mail from the luggage company about how you can collect your luggage and where. Like many suitcases, the Live Luggage PA suitcase has a three-way combination lock system that's proprietary to Live Luggage, but compatible with the TSA's skeleton lock system.

The suitcase has an interesting battery design. The motors can last for about two hours or about one and three-quarters of a mile on one battery charge. The motors are powered by a rechargeable 12v NiMH battery. The case comes with a charger. An LED light goes out when the battery needs charging. Like a Toyota Prius, the batteries actually recharge themselves using the turning of the wheels (say, when you're going downhill or other circumstances when the motor's power isn't required).

The good news is that the Live Luggage PA suitcase will save your back. The bad news is that it will empty your wallet. At over $1,300, the suitcase is not for everybody.

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