Self-steering suitcases brings to life Pratchets’ sapient ‘Luggage’
TECHNOLOGY often follows science fiction stories, but when it comes to two types of moving luggage that is being tested around the world, fantasy author Terry Pratchett must take a bow for thinking of it first in his Luggage character.
British company Starships Technologies’ was first to launch what it calls “sidewalk robots” last year (as reported on in Wheels) and a fleet of them is being tested in 59 cities in 16 countries. Now Piaggio Fast Forward, the makers of Vespa scooters in the U.S., has launched the Gita, a self-balancing two-wheeled cargo robot.
Gita’s name is pronounced “jee-ta,” which means “short trip” in Italian. It sits 66 cm tall, has a zero turning radius, and can travel at bicycle-like speeds of up to 35 km/h. That said, it’s also capable of matching the walking speed of its human operator, following them as they mosey hands-free down the sidewalk or along supermarket aisles.
By comparison, the Starship street robot uses six-wheels to balance and can carry up to 10 kilograms with space for four full shopping bags, and the battery lasts for roughly 8 km, or two hours.
Gita can carry up to 18 kg of groceries or other goods, following its owner or even striking out on its own, like the Starship street robots, which are already being tested by the Swiss postal service for special mail and rapid parcel delivery, as well as Postmates ondemand delivery service in Washington DC.
But while the Starship is autonomous, Gita follows a white belt with a camera on the front. Using an existing technology known as SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping), that system creates a 3D point cloud map of the user’s environment as they travel through it. Gita is able to ascertain its position and that of its user, within that map, with help from a forward-facing stereo camera system that tracks the belt.
“If you go out of the line of sight, let’s say if you turn around a corner or you may go through an alley, Gita will soon catch up with you,” Piaggio Fast Forward COO Sasha Hoffman told New Atlas. “It still knows where it’s going, because it optically has seen the path that you walked.”
Additionally, once it’s followed a user through an environment, it can use the map that was created to go back through that environment autonomously. The user can create waypoints along the way, which Gita will subsequently stop at when it makes the trip again on its own. “If you walked all around your house, you could set up the kitchen, the dining room, the front door and the back entrance as different points on the map,” explained Hoffman.
“If you were at your front door and you needed to send Gita with a package to your kitchen, there’s a touchscreen interface and you could literally touch it and tell it within two buttons to head for the kitchen.”
Its cameras, along with an ultrasonic range-finding system, constitute an obstacle-avoidance system that keeps it from running into things. One three-hour charge of the robot’s battery should be good for about eight hours of use at walking speed.
Plans call for Gita to initially be trialled in a business-to-business model. After about a year, a consumer version is likely to follow. “Piaggio has a huge history of selling directly to the consumer, so there’s definitely an end game of producing a product at a price point that’s manageable for the consumer,” said Hoffman.
Gita will be officially launched at event taking place in Boston on February 2.
LEFT: This month’s most innovative use of the wheel is Gita, a self-balancing, self-steering suitcase that follows a white belt with a camera on its owner. RIGHT: Starship’s Henry Harris-Burland shows the driving skills of his sidewalk robots at the Washington DC auto show.