The Economist has just reported that pedestrians may be sharing the sidewalk with a new interloper-a new version of robotic delivery system developed by “Piaggio Fast Forward, a subsidiary of Piaggio, an Italian firm that is best known for making Vespa motor scooters. Gita’s luggage compartment is a squat, drumlike cylinder that has been turned on its side. This, as the picture above shows, is fitted with two wheels of slightly larger diameter than the drum. These let the whole thing roll smoothly along, keeping the luggage compartment upright, at up to 35kph (22mph).”
This item called a “Gita” is designed to walk a pace or two behind a human owner wearing an electronic belt, and can carry 18 kilograms of cargo for up to eight hours before needing recharging. Gita carries shopping as well as delivering goods ordered online.
“Piaggio is now putting a dozen or so Gitas to work in pilot projects around America, doing things like carrying tools for workers, guiding people through airports and assisting with deliveries. And it is not alone. Starship Technologies, an Estonian company started by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, two of the founders of Skype, has similar ambitions. Starship’s as-yet unnamed suitcase-sized robot has six small wheels, travels at 6kph and holds 10kg of cargo. Rather than doggedly following a human being, it navigates itself around using cameras and ultrasonic sensors—though a remote operator can take control of it to supervise tricky manoeuvres such as crossing roads.”
One challenged faced by these “robots” and their designers is what is called unstructured environments, mainly the fact that these transporters have to share sidewalk space with unpredictable human beings. Robotics have not learned how to navigate space that is full of people-yet. But engineer Matt Delany is not giving up. “The pedestrian environment is very cultural,” he says. “If you monitor people over many long repetitions in testing, a robot can learn the best routes.”
Because this new generation of robotics will not be on vehicular streets and road surfaces, the regulation and safety concerns have been to this point minimized. These robotics may be the new shape of autonomous home delivery, using a sidewalk near you.