"The Vespa of Robots" follows you home
Did you haul your stuff around behind you in a wagon when you were a kid? Well, a new branch of the company that makes the Vespa scooter has developed what could be the 21st century equivalent of that wagon. Made by the US-based Piaggio Fast Forward, Gita is a self-balancing two-wheeled cargo robot that can carry up to 40 lb (18 kg) of your groceries or other goods, following along behind you or even striking out on its own.
Gita's name is pronounced "jee-ta," which means "short trip" in Italian. It sits 26 inches tall (66 cm), has a zero turning radius, and can travel at bicycle-like speeds of up to 22 mph (35 km/h). That said, it's also capable of matching the walking speed of its human operator, following them as they mosey hands-free down the sidewalk or along supermarket aisles.
How does that work? Well, the user wears a white belt with a camera on the front. Using an existing technology known as SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping), that system creates a 3D point cloud map of the user's environment as they travel through it. Gita is able to ascertain its position and that of its user, within that map, with help from a forward-facing stereo camera system that tracks the belt.
"If you go out of the line of sight, let's say if you turn around a corner or you may go through an alley, Gita will soon catch up with you," Piaggio Fast Forward COO Sasha Hoffman tells New Atlas. "It still knows where it's going, because it optically has seen the path that you walked."
Additionally, once it's followed a user through an environment, it can use the map that was created to go back through that environment autonomously. The user can create waypoints along the way, which Gita will subsequently stop at when it makes the trip again on its own.
"If you walked all around your house, you could set up the kitchen, the dining room, the front door and the back entrance as different points on the map," explains Hoffman. "If you were at your front door and you needed to send Gita with a package to your kitchen, there's a touchscreen interface and you could literally touch it and tell it within two buttons to head for the kitchen."
One three-hour charge of the robot's battery should be good for about eight hours of use at walking speed. Its cameras, along with an ultrasonic range-finding system, constitute an obstacle-avoidance system that keeps it from running into things.
Plans call for Gita to initially be trialled in a business-to-business model. After about a year, a consumer version is likely to follow.
"Piaggio has a huge history of selling directly to the consumer, so there's definitely an end game of producing a product at a price point that's manageable for the consumer," says Hoffman.
Gita will be officially launched at event taking place in Boston on Feb. 2nd.