Martin Diz (PhD ’15) came to UB in 2011 to study drones.
Now he travels back and forth to China overseeing production of a high-tech suitcase that he and some friends developed to solve frustrating travel problems. The product, called Bluesmart, raised $1.36 million within 30 days of its posting on the website Indiegogo, making it one of the hottest crowdfunding campaigns ever. The company has orders for thousands of bags and expects to start delivery this summer.
“It’s crazy,” says Diz, who got his PhD in mechanical and aerospace engineering in January, just before heading east. “We wondered if we’d be able to raise $50,000, but we exceeded that in two hours. Then we reached $1 million. Needless to say, we were very happy.”
Bluesmart is a typical carry-on—except for its gizmos. A small computer inside the bag connects with a smartphone via Bluetooth. Other features include a battery with two USB ports to charge smartphones and tablets, sensors that track the bag’s location, and a digital scale that weighs the bag when the handle is lifted. It also has mobile apps that automatically lock the bag when the owner steps away, and that remind travelers when to arrive at the airport and what to pack based on the weather at their destination.
“The last innovation of the suitcase was decades ago, and it was just to add four wheels,” says Diz, one of five co-founders of the company. “Everything today is smart, but there are no smart suitcases. So we set out to think how the carry-on for this century should be made.”
A native of Argentina, Diz came to UB because several faculty members specialize in research on unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones. While studying under Manoranjan Majji, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Diz developed expertise with sensors that drones use to gather data.
The knowledge Diz gained at UB proved useful in early 2014 when Alejo Verlini, his cousin and an early co-founder of the company, asked Diz to develop Bluesmart’s devices. (Verlini and a few friends had settled on the concept several months before, but they needed a technical whiz to make it a reality.)
At the time, Diz was neck-deep in his dissertation. But considering he had no plans upon finishing his PhD, he agreed to join the team. He made sure Bluesmart’s disparate electronics were compatible. From there, the project took off.
It soon became clear what Diz would do after receiving his degree.
“I came here to learn about drones. Now I’m working with suitcases,” he says. “Who knows what’s next?”