Piaggio Makes Horrifying Robot Platoons That Follow Humans

Piaggio Makes Horrifying Robot Platoons That Follow Humans
To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, features and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Gizmodo Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a news fix.

Piaggio Group, the parent company of those ever-so-cute Vespa scooters, announced it can now outfit Boston Robotics’ totally harmless robot, Spot, with a module that eliminates the need to control the ’bot remotely. Meaning, this robot dog can now track and follow its handler to and fro independently of human input.

Piaggio calls the smart follow module a PFFTag, which stands for Piaggio Fast Forward Tag. Fast Forward is not a playful reference; it’s Piaggio’s robotics company.

Piaggio Fast Forward created the Gita, a rolling robot that carries cargo, which can now communicate with Spot to create terrifying robot platoons. You can see them marching, which the company actually refers to as Platooning, in this vid:

The PFFTag was jointly developed with Trimble, a company whose navigation work in many different sectors was helpful in getting the module up and running. The module uses laser scanning and Global Navigation Satellite System sensors to guide Spot as it follows the handler.

It can even retrace its steps over the same path without the need to follow its human! All a handler has to do is command Spot to return the way it came, and it will about-face and scamper back with no supervision. PFF described the module and how it borrowed it from the Gita, then adapted the tech to Spot:

While many robots, including Spot, are currently controlled by joysticks operated in person or by telepresence from a remote location, operators can now leverage PFF’s exclusive smart following technology, that allows humans to lead other robots and machines, providing a larger range of navigation methods — remote control, autonomous, and now, following — in dynamic environments. PFF engineers have been able to componentize the smart following technology developed for PFF’s gita® robot into a stand-alone module called PFFtag…

The PFFTag is undoubtedly impressive and could be very helpful in a bunch of different environments, but this thing is giving me serious Fahrenheit 451 vibes. I feel like this is the precursor to the Mechanical Hound. Remember that thing? It’s the robot dog that chases the protagonist relentlessly in the novel’s climax.

The vice president of Trimble’s Emerging Technologies division, Aviad Almagor, had a friendlier literary reference in mind for the PFFTag. He brought up Don Quixote’s funny sidekick when describing the concept ’bot:

Like, a 21st century Sancho Panza, robots with PFFtag, may have the future ability to assist construction professionals in their daily workflow, carry heavy equipment, improve efficiency and enhance workers safety.

That’s a nice image, but we’ll have to just hope the PFFTag doesn’t start getting any defence contracts soon. Otherwise, it’d be best to reread your Bradbury now and start drafting a fight or flight plan to foil these robot platoons.