Is there a robot following you? There might be one shadowing your every move soon, if the engineers at startup Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF) have their way. The Boston-based company is pioneering the intelligent movement of people and goods at a scale larger than aerial drones, but smaller than cars.
Their first innovation is Gita, an autonomous, mobile cargo robot designed to follow an individual and free their hands as they navigate through complex urban spaces. The round, 3 foot-high robot uses sensors to generate 3D maps of its surroundings, and can use these to travel autonomously between waypoints in previously explored areas, detecting and avoiding obstacles along the way.
“Gita exemplifies this vision of a more human-centric city because it is specifically designed for neighborhood-scale distances, and to carry the most common loads of cargo,” said Beth Altringer, Chief of Design Research for PFF and Senior Preceptor in Innovation and Design at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Most human cargo is about the size of two large shopping bags—much smaller than the cargo space inside a car. If we want to encourage people to walk more, and to be more car-free, we need to find new ways to help them manage cumbersome loads as they move comfortably around town. Gita is a small cargo bot that can carry over 40 pounds of cargo for you while you walk home from work, stop at the grocery store, go for a jog, or ride around your bike.”
Math concentrator, conducted light and sound engineering principles were applied to impart user-friendly design elements, such as colored LED strips on the wheels which indicate whether the robot is operating normally. Gita’s intuitive touch-screen streamlines human-computer interaction, and the robot will follow a user at the touch of one button.
Large, bicycle-like wheels are designed to operate in Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant indoor, outdoor, and irregular surface areas. Gita delivers max speeds of 22 miles per hour, and matches the full range of human mobility, from a leisurely jaunt to a vigorous bike ride. The robot’s cargo space is the size of a case of wine.