This $4,300 Robot Didn’t Complain About Carrying My Groceries

This $4,300 Robot Didn’t Complain About Carrying My Groceries
Image: Piaggio Fast Forward

The Gita by Piaggio Fast Forward is the weirdest product (project?) I’ve ever reviewed. Created by a skunkworks associated with Italy’s Piaggio Group — makers of the Vespa — the Gita is a mobility tool designed for cities of the future.

And it also looks like a cute orange pig.

The robot itself is a rolling cooler. It has two huge wheels and rights itself automatically like Segway. A set of cameras on the front and back plus a Bluetooth connection let the robot “imprint” itself on the person standing in front of it. The robot then follows that person anywhere and as long as it doesn’t get confused by bright lights or gets messed up in a crowd, it rolls along behind you like a trusted companion.

The Gita can carry up to forty pounds and has an unnervingly precise 43 litres of storage space. You can lock items inside it using the phone app and it’s so heavy — it’s 23 kilograms empty, and very unwieldy — that you’d have to be really motivated to steal it.

It works like this: you pair it to yourself and let it follow you to the store. Pairing is as simple as a button press, no app required. Though you’ll need the app if you want to lock it, or, if you’re like my mum, you’d probably let the robot follow you into Target. You load it up with groceries and let it follow you home. You could imagine this also being a helper for delivery folks who need to get a heavy box that last stretch down a long driveway.

As you can probably guess, this thing isn’t perfect. It’s comically large and folks in my neighbourhood were alternately scared and fascinated by it. It worked perfectly except for two cases, one in which it got confused when a few people approached it from the front and it sped up and slid along a metal fence in a sort of panicked hippo kind of way and another time when it suddenly decided a passing woman was its… leader? Owner? We were on a street corner and the Gita suddenly spun around and started following some random woman, nearly crossing the street before we were able to stop it. Despite those two random events, the Gita was a faithful little robot and didn’t do anything untoward.

The Gita costs $US3,250 ($4,312). This means you’re either going to be buying this for a building or retirement centre or you’re picking this up for your company. It’s not a mass-market product at that price. This means it’s a heavy-duty mobility device like a Vespa rather than a mass-produced product like an iRobot vacuum. Will these things get cheap enough to follow us all around someday? Definitely, but I can only imagine the traffic caused by a bunch of Gitas rolling down Main Street toting gallons of seltzer and pounds of potatoes.

Playing with the Gita was like experiencing the future. Unlike the much-hyped Segway, this device will enter the mainstream sooner than we expect. It’s a clever product with some great design and, most important, it’s useful. As you can see from the video I shot with my mum, she loves the concept even if she doesn’t quite know how she’d use it. After all, her suburban Columbus, Ohio neighbourhood doesn’t have many footpaths.

I’m not sure the world is quite ready for the Gita but my mum is. And her opinion is probably shared by an entire generation of mobile but older consumers looking for a little bit of help at Kroger. While Gita might not take over your local grocery store any time soon, I definitely think something like the Gita will be rolling past you on the footpath in the next decade. All we have to do is get out of the way.

README

  • The product makes perfect sense but it’s not quite ready for prime time
  • Expensive as heck
  • People love this little piglet as it rolls down the street