This Robot Will Carry Your Stuff and Follow You Around

Inside an industrial building in Somerville, Massachusetts, I’m watching a robot follow someone around like an eager puppy.

The light-blue robot, called Gita, is almost spherical, with two wheels about the size of those you’d find on a mountain bike. A nearby laptop shows the world as perceived by the robot: a “point-cloud” of dots representing the 3-D shape of the room and the hallway outside, generated using a series of cameras attached to the bot’s body. 

Gita was developed by Piaggio, an Italian automotive company that makes various lightweight vehicles but is most famous for making the iconic Vespa scooter. The robot is an experimental new way of transporting stuff. The top of the robot opens up, allowing it to store up to 40 pounds of whatever you might otherwise lug around yourself. The company is about to begin testing Gita in a number of industrial settings, including factories and theme parks. But the hope is that the robot may also appeal to consumers who might want a robot assistant as they walk, run, or ride a bike (it has a top speed of 22 mph).

Gita is a clear sign of the technological revolution currently shaking the world of transportation. As new technologies start to upend modes of mobility that have changed barely at all in decades, the automotive world is rapidly reinventing itself (see “Rebooting the Automobile”).

Jeffrey Schnapp, CEO of Piaggio Fast Forward, a subsidiary, says the company is trying to do something distinct in the transportation space. “A lot of focus is on automobiles and drones,” he says. “There are places where human-robot interaction makes sense.”

Piaggio created Piaggio Fast Forward 18 months ago. Its mission is to experiment with new modes of transportation and new technologies. The sensors, control systems, and electric propulsion used in the new robot could all prove crucial for future Piaggio products, says Michele Colaninno, chairman of the board of Piaggio Fast Forward. The new robot is also a natural extension of the three-wheeled scooters Piaggio makes for commercial use.

Still, as with many…