This Rolling Robot Porter Follows You With Your Stuff

The fashion-forward Gita, from Italian designer Piaggio, can carry 40 pounds of luggage, groceries or what-have-you.

The Italian motor design company Piaggio, maker of the iconic Vespa scooter, is getting into the robot business.

Designed to carry a small amount of cargo, the Gita is a cylindrical two-wheeled robot that scoots about on wraparound bicycle-style tires. While similar in function to other small delivery bots, the Gita boasts the kind of fashion-forward form factor that's made Piaggio famous.

Gita (Italian for "quick trip") stands about two feet tall, with a top-loading interior cargo space that holds up to 40 pounds of stuff. The prototype model has a top speed of 22 miles per hour and can run for about eight hours at a time on the current battery, recharging at a standard wall outlet.

The bot also features a navigation system with external cameras and sensors to continuously track its environment. Unlike the laser-based systems used by other autonomous bots and vehicles, the Gita uses fisheye and stereoscopic camera setups to constantly capture images in all directions. Onboard software then decodes this visual information on the fly, giving the robot a 3D map of its surroundings.

It's a 4D map, really, since the image-based system takes time into account as well, microsecond to microsecond. This allows to the robot to infer information on speed and trajectory, anticipating the movement of other objects in the vicinity and avoiding collisions.

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The cameras also allow the Gita to follow its owner around. One again, the Gita does things a little differently. Eschewing traditional lidar tracking, the Gita system includes a second set of cameras built into a belt worn by the person it's following. By comparing belt images to the images picked up by its own external cameras, the Gita can maintain a set distance, or even follow a path long after its companion has called it a day.

This might be useful with delivery routes and grocery store runs, for instance. The Piaggio team is also looking into potential industrial and workplace applications - a fetch bot for the office or warehouse. There's also talk of deploying little the Gita in vacation spots and theme parks.

But more than anything, Piaggio designers hope the Gita finds its home in the cities of the world. According to the very interesting demo video, company engineers envision the Gita as a kind of 21st-century update to the Vespa, that enduring symbol of urban modernity.

"Because we come from Piaggio, we see cities in a different way than an automobile company," says chief creative officer Greg Lynn in the demo video. "We think about people moving in a granular way."

To accelerate development of the Gita and other "granular movement" technologies, the company has opened a new office called Piaggio Fast Forward in Boston, which has become a hotbed of robotics development in recent years.

No timeline has been established yet for a consumer release of the Gita, but Piaggio is currently arranging business and industrial pilot tests for later this year.

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