The First Useful Personal Robot Just Carries Your Stuff
A day with the schlep-bot Gita gave me insight into what daily life shared with robots will look like
The weekly farmer’s market in El Segundo, a cozy beach town in the shadow of Los Angeles International Airport, has everything you’d expect to see at such an event ($6 organic waffles, $8 jars of beet sauerkraut, athleisure-clad parents pushing strollers) and some things you don’t. That includes — on one recent afternoon — a fleet of personal robot assistants.
The robot in question is called Gita (pronounced jee-ta), an Italian word that means outing, or short trip. It is made by Piaggio Fast Forward, a Boston-based offshoot of the Italian manufacturer of the famous Vespa scooter. But if the Vespa is a sexy, stylish partner in adventure, Gita is a humble and loyal footman, content to trail obediently behind rather than roar ahead.
The robot at rest resembles a wheeled drinks cooler, with a spacious interior designed to hold up to 40 pounds of whatever you choose to toss inside. Stand before your Gita, tap the app, and the robot awakens with an optimistic little beep. Five cameras on the front of the robot register the shape of your legs and their relative depth from other objects in the environment. The robot then follows those legs wherever they go. It’s a self-propelling, hands-free shopping trolley that moves like BB-8’s mellower cousin.
Gita’s stop in El Segundo was part of an ongoing nationwide tour to introduce the robot to potential customers in advance of its November 18 launch. A Gita costs $3,250, which means that at least initially, this will be a robot assistant for the rich of us, not the rest of us.
We may one day find ourselves as irritated by sidewalks clogged with Gita-like robots as we are with electric scooters. But Sherpa-bots have an important advantage: It’s way easier to get mad about something that you don’t use yourself. And the share of the population that feels comfortable on a scooter is dwarfed by those of us who are comfortable having someone else — or something else — carry our stuff.