his is Gita.” Jeffrey Schnapp pronounces the “T” in the crisp, Italian way—near the teeth rather than the soft palate—which makes me feel like I should have worn more expensive shoes to the meeting. Gita is a bulbous lozenge of a robot, about two feet tall, with rubber tires at its edges so it can spin around within its own footprint.
Gita means a jaunt or an outing. The little robot goes on quick trips with its human, carrying things too heavy to bear by hand and too inconvenient to do so by backpack or bicycle. Once powered up, Gita automatically follows its owner, traipsing the groceries or gardening home while the human operator strolls ahead, free to gesticulate on a phone call or inhale from a cigarette. With a cargo capacity of 44 pounds and an eight-hour battery life, Schnapp and his team hope that Gita might redirect some automobile trips into pedestrian ones.
The concept sounds familiar enough, at first: yet another attempt to automate daily life with sensor-driven robotics. But there’s something different about Gita. As the CEO of Piaggio Fast Forward, the company that makes Gita, Schnapp has been charged with reinventing mobility for Piaggio, an Italian manufacturer of motor vehicles including small commercial equipment, Aprilia racing motorcycles, and Vespa motor scooters. That’s right, the company behind the scooter that plucks the heartstrings of romantic, urban fantasy is now making spheroid cargo droids.