February 6, 2017

Piaggio Fast Forward's Gita is the Next Step Towards a Robotic Future

Piaggio Fast Forward unveiled its first product, a robot called Gita, at Café ArtScience in Cambridge on Thursday night.

Gita is a round, 26-inch tall robot designed to carry belongings in a cargo bin as it travels autonomously or follows a person.

Set to be brought to market sometime in 2018, Gita (pronounced jee-tah) tracks the movements of people wearing a belt-like device and can follow that path at speeds up to 22 mph. Once Gita has travelled a route, it can repeat the same path autonomously.Gita by Piaggio Fast Forward

A crowd of Boston technology enthusiasts watched several Gitas move around an open space during the presentation, avoiding each other and PFF CEO Jeffrey Schnapp as he walked through their paths while explaining the young company’s product development process.

“Instead of focusing on the autonomy feature we wanted to focus on the human feature,” Schnapp said. “We thought, ‘What could we do to make humans stronger, faster or more efficient?’ While other people are trying to replace humans we’re trying to help them, and we think this is a pretty good starting point.”

The exact use of Gita has not been precisely defined, but the audience had no shortage of ideas. I heard people say the robot would be perfect in nursing homes, as a golf caddie and in warehouses.

Far from being concerned about the wide range of ideas, PFF encouraged the audience to give feedback about where they thought Gita would be most useful.

“We want to hear from you, we don’t think we have all the answers,” Schnapp said. “We think we got the right basic concept and design, but we want everyone to decide exactly where the value gets added.”

The Gita project began just 18 months ago when Piaggio Fast Forward was created by parent company the Piaggio Group. The Piaggio Group is known for the Vespa, but it tasked its new Boston-based subsidiary with creating an entirely new way to aid human mobility.

Gita by Piaggio Fast Forward“This started out as a blue sky project, we didn’t say ‘Okay here’s a small problem that we can wrap our heads around and fix,’” Schnapp explained. “We started out with a group of thinkers and designers, people with deep experience tackling complex problems. We were thinking about spaces of mobility that were underserved.”

The robot can travel for up to eight hours at pedestrian speed on a single charge and can carry up to 40 lbs of cargo.

For the next eight months, Gita will be deployed in diverse business environments including campuses, hotels, retail stores and more. Schnapp says the company is open to testing anything out.

With bright colors, a smooth design and LED lights that change colors depending on speed, Gita looks more like R2-D2’s hot date than some of the haunting, legged robots other companies have shown off.

“We wanted it to be communicative and fun, an object you want to interact with,” Schnapp says. “Think of it like a pet that has superpowers.”

Zach Winn is a contributor to VentureFizz. Follow Zach on Twitter: @ZachinBoston.