Trashcan-sized robots could revolutionize the way you travel, but there’s a catch

be followed it’s at best annoying (because of an annoying brother) and at worst terrifying (because of a suspicious stranger). But imagine using the art of lurking to your advantage. That is the plan of Piaggio, the Italian company behind the Vespa. Your new robots, gitamini and gitaplusand the accompanying app can hang on to your every move, carry your trash, stream your music, and track your miles.

In a world plagued by constant screen time, the gita robots promise to hold on to your stuff and give you the rare freedom to immerse yourself in the world, finally getting those 10,000 daily steps.

“We took a position of, let’s try to compete with some of these options that are taking people more and more out of the built environment and onto a screen,” says Greg Lynn, co-founder and CEO of the robot manufacturing subsidiary. Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF). Lynn, who is also an architect, is interested in the way people move in their environment.

Currently you can buy the smallest gita.mini, which can hold up to 20 pounds and comes with “pedestrian tag,” or the ability to dodge people and go through doors, for $1,850. the gitapluswhich is double that, costs $3,475 and will start shipping in October.

If you’re willing to shell out $1,000+ for a stalking robot, it might make long walks a little easier.Piaggio Fast Forward

The era of lurking robots

With the gita bots, Piaggio wanted to put its own spin on the rise of autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing, says Lynn.

As he points out, Americans’ walking trips tend to be around a mile or less. People can be discouraged from taking longer walks if they’re carrying, say, a heavy backpack, says Lynn. But he thinks a cargo-carrying robot could encourage people to go the distance instead of driving or asking for a ride.

“When it gets to be a mile and a half each way, people say, ‘You know, I have to carry this,’” says Lynn. “We focus on these types of environments where there are a lot of people moving and traveling longer distances.”

For example, it might be easier to walk to a somewhat distant Trader Joe’s across a crowded pedestrian route if you have a freight-carrying robot that has been trained to navigate crowded areas.

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Instead of simply trying to fit self-driving vehicle technology onto sidewalks and guessing how pedestrians would react, Lynn and her colleagues took to the streets and studied how people roam the world.

The Knightscope security bot has been criticized for its questionable effectiveness and invasive data collection methods.Boston Globe/Boston Globe/Getty Images

PFF has also recruited people to walk around six hours a day on custom stages that feature real-life obstacles like slopes, changes in terrain, and gates. The company even tests barriers such as dogs, children and suitcases that could, for example, block the gita in an elevator.

The gita line is just one example of the expensive tracking robots that are increasingly present in our daily lives. You may have seen the menacing yet hilarious Knightscope robot that patrols areas like shopping malls and neighborhoods. It has been criticized for its questionable efficacy and invasive data collection methods.

This relatively recent technology could open up a whole new can of worms.

Meanwhile, Amazon is now selling limited quantities of the Astro, which can roam your home to detect intruders, track you to deliver calls and reminders, or even provide entertainment, but unless you’re a special early adopter with an invite, most people will have to pay $1,449.99 for it.

This new batch of tracking devices raises new questions about data privacy: Like smartphones, they are designed to accompany us throughout our days. And just as iPhones and Androids have threatened the security of our personal information for the past decade, this relatively recent technology could open up a whole new can of worms.

How does Gita do her thing?

Gita robots use multiple sensors to navigate their environment and move closely behind users. These include an RGB color camera, which replicates how people see the world, and a stereo depth camera, which simulates how we perceive depth. There is also a 4D Radar on Chip (RoC) that uses radio waves to determine the distance and angle of an object.

All of this information is captured and processed by the gita’s hardware every 33 milliseconds, mapping the robot’s precise path forward. “That’s pretty intense. There are many operations that we have to do so that the engine moves in the right direction and follows the leader”, says Jean-Claude Coutant, PFF’s chief technology officer.

“When you walk with a robot, people tend to come and talk to you.”

The gita models are intended for a wide range of consumers, Lynn says, and the company is working to ensure they can help people with disabilities. PFF has done research with people who use wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and service animals to learn how the gita can track their movements.

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At the Newcastle Center for Aging in the UK, researchers were surprised to find that gita robots can act as helpful conversation starters for older users. “Frankly, when you walk around with a robot, people tend to come over and talk to you,” says Lynn.

The idea of ​​a roaming companion who can help people with disabilities It’s not new, says Rory Cooper, a bioengineer at the University of Pittsburgh who researches assistive robotics.

While gita models could help people with disabilities, they likely need more research and modification.Piaggio Fast Forward

Designing such a device comes with challenges: for example, it must fit into a car, plane, or public bus. But it could potentially offer many benefits for this demographic, he notes, such as the opportunity for wheelchair users to take them shopping.

“[The gita robots] they are a good start, and if manufacturers seek and integrate the guidance of users, especially people with disabilities and older adults, the product and its interface could evolve and improve to be more inclusive, “says Cooper.

But the devices could complicate wheelchair navigation, he explains, which can already be a challenge. He thinks the robot may have trouble tracking an electric wheelchair, which can move around 8 miles per hour, more than twice the average walking speed.

In general, he says, the design makes certain assumptions about gita users. “[The gita robots] they are largely designed for people who are highly cognitive and technologically savvy,” explains Cooper. “The cost is likely to be prohibitive for many people with disabilities.”

Older adults and people with walking difficulties would benefit from a seat in the gita to rest, Cooper adds.

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keeping it local

Although hidden bots continue to be deployed, companies do not need to adhere to any legal standards for data security practices.FotografiaBasica/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

In addition to potential accessibility issues, gita models also pose security concerns. This kind of technology could collect even more personal data than other consumer devices or robots, says Anna Chatzimichali, an engineer at the University of the West of England, Bristol, who co-wrote a 2020 paper on data privacy in human-human interactions. robots. .

Chatzimichali and colleagues found that privacy policies vary widely among consumer robotics companies, including Dyson (which makes a robotic vacuum cleaner) and UBtech (the maker of several service robots). In general, these companies do not have to meet any legal standards for data security practices; however, more robots are likely to emerge in the coming years.

“Companies need to be more prepared to discuss privacy more openly,” says Chatzimichali. “There is currently a lot of reluctance to talk to researchers about these issues.”

As more tracking bots are deployed, Chatzimichali recommends that manufacturers clearly define what information stays with the bot versus what is sent back to the business for troubleshooting or other purposes. Ideally, all data is handled on the machine itself, making it harder for hackers to intercept compared to information sent to a cloud system.

“Companies need to be more prepared to discuss privacy more openly.”

“At the moment, local processing remains a challenge, but technologically this is becoming more and more possible,” he says. “This could require more expensive hardware and more power.”

As for the gita models, PFF says that all the information remains on the devices. The company doesn’t send any data anywhere else, according to Coutant, and it disappears after it’s processed. The same goes for the accompanying phone app. If PFF is asked to locate a specific robot, Lynn says she wouldn’t be able to help them.

When gita connects to Wi-Fi, it uploads data such as battery level information and any software issues so the company can improve its devices.

Amazon Astro, on the other hand, sends some data, including video and voice recordings, to the cloud and encrypts it. But Amazon doesn’t really have the best track record. of secure personal information.

As critics have pointed out, bringing high-tech sensor robots into your daily life could leave you at the mercy of companies that have a financial incentive to sell your data. But we really don’t know how things will play out, until more of these futuristic products show up on people’s doorsteps.

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