Trash can-sized robots could revolutionize how you travel — but there’s a catch

Be followed all around is annoying at best (from a nagging sibling) and terrifying at worst (from a suspicious stranger). But imagine using the art of lurking to your advantage. That’s the plan from Piaggio, the Italian company behind the Vespa. Your new robots, gitaMini and gitaplusand the companion app can capture your every move, carry your crap, stream your music, and track your miles.

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

“We’ve taken a position, let’s try to compete with some of these options that are increasingly taking people out of the built environment and onto a screen,” said Greg Lynn, co-founder and CEO of robotics subsidiary Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF). . Lynn, who is also an architect, is interested in how people move around them.

You can currently purchase the smaller GitaMini, which can carry up to 20 pounds and comes equipped with “pedestrian etiquette,” or the ability to avoid people and walk through doors, for $1,850. The Gitapluswhich lasts twice as much, costs $3,475 and will start shipping in October.

If you’re willing to shell out over $1,000 for a lurking robot, it might make long walks a little easier.Piaggio fast forward

The age of the lurking robots

With the Gita-Bots, Piaggio wanted to put its own spin on the boom in ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles, says Lynn.

As he points out, American migrations are typically about a mile or less. People may be discouraged from longer walks if they’re carrying a heavy backpack, for example, says Lynn. But he thinks a cargo-carrying robot could encourage people to cover the distance instead of driving or calling a ride-sharing service.

“When it’s a mile and a half each way, people are like, ‘You know, I have to carry this thing,'” says Lynn. “We focused on environments where there are a lot of people moving around and covering longer distances.”

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

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Rather than simply trying to adapt self-driving vehicle technology to sidewalks and anticipating how pedestrians would react, Lynn and his colleagues took to the streets and studied how people stroll through the world.

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

PFF also enlisted people to run about six hours a day on custom-built sets that contain real-life obstacles like inclines, terrain changes, and doors. The company is even testing with barriers such as dogs, children and suitcases that could block the Gita in an elevator, for example.

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 but funny Knightscope robot patrolling areas like malls and neighborhoods. It has been criticized for its questionable effectiveness and invasive methods of data collection.

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

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

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

How Gita does her thing

The gita robots use multiple sensors to navigate their environment and move close behind users. These include a color RGB camera that recreates how people see the world and a stereo depth camera that simulates how we perceive depth. There’s also a 4D radar on chip (RoC) that uses radio waves to determine an object’s distance and angle.

All of this information is captured and processed by the Gita’s hardware every 33 milliseconds, mapping the robot’s exact path forward. “It’s pretty intense. We have to do a lot of work to make the engine move in the right direction and follow the leader,” says Jean-Claude Coutant, Chief Technology Officer at PFF.

“When you walk around with a robot, people tend to approach 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 conducted research with people using wheelchairs, walkers, canes and service animals to determine how the Gita could follow their movements.

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In the UK, researchers at the Newcastle Center for Aging were surprised to find that Gita robots can act as helpful conversation starters for older users. “Frankly, when you’re walking around with a robot, people tend to talk to you,” says Lynn.

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

While the Gita models could help people with disabilities, they likely need further research and modification.Piaggio fast forward

The design of such a device comes with challenges: for example, it has to fit in a car, plane or public bus. But it could potentially offer many benefits to this demographic, he points out, such as allowing wheelchair users to take them on a shopping trip.

“[The gita robots] are a good start, and as manufacturers seek and incorporate guidance from users, particularly those with disabilities and older adults, the product and its user interface could evolve and improve to be more inclusive,” says Cooper.

But the devices could make wheelchair navigation difficult, he explains, which can already be a challenge. He thinks the robot might have trouble tracking a power wheelchair, which can propel itself at about 8 miles per hour — more than double the average walking speed.

Overall, he says, the design makes certain assumptions about Gita users. “[The gita robots] are mostly designed for people with high cognitive ability and technological know-how,” explains Cooper. “The cost is likely to be prohibitive for many people with disabilities.”

Older adults and those with walking difficulties would benefit from a seat on the Gita to rest on, Cooper adds.

It stays local

Even as lurking robots continue to enter the market, organizations are not required to meet regulatory standards for data security practices.PhotographiaBasica/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

In addition to potential accessibility issues, the Gita models also raise safety concerns. This type of technology could potentially collect even more personal data than other consumer devices or robots are already doing, says Anna Chatzimichali, an engineer at the University of the West of England Bristol who is working on a 2020 paper on privacy in human-robot interactions. wrote down interactions.

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Chatzimichali and her colleagues found that privacy policies vary widely between consumer robotics companies, including Dyson (which makes a robotic vacuum cleaner) and UBtech (which makes several service robots). Overall, these companies don’t have to meet any legal standards for data security practices—yet more robots are sure to come onto the market in the years to come.

“Companies need to be better prepared to discuss data protection more openly,” says Chatzimichali. “There is currently a great reluctance to talk to researchers about these topics.”

As more follower robots enter the market, Chatzimichali recommends that manufacturers clearly define what information is kept in the robot and what is sent back to the company for troubleshooting or other purposes. Ideally, all data is processed on the machine itself, making it harder for hackers to intercept compared to information delivered to a cloud system.

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

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

As for the Gita models, PFF says all information stays on the devices. The company doesn’t send data elsewhere, according to Coutant, and it disappears after it’s processed. The same applies to the associated telephone app. If PFF were asked to find a specific robot, Lynn says he couldn’t 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.

The Amazon Astro, on the other hand, sends some data, including video and voice recordings, to the cloud and encrypts them. But Amazon doesn’t really have the best track record from Securing Personal Data.

As critics have pointed out, by introducing robots with high-tech sensors into your daily life, you could be at the mercy of companies with financial incentives to sell your data. But we don’t really know how things will pan out — until more of these futuristic products actually show up on people’s doorsteps.

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