Who invented the motorized flip camera?

There is war on the streets. Motorists rail against cyclists because they have to give up space for two-wheeled lanes. Cyclists complain about electric scooter drivers who also ride on their paths. Pedestrians rail against everyone because some are parking their way and others are racing over them. No wonder that some delivery drones or air taxis want to circle over cities. Jeffrey Schnapp at Harvard University is not one of them. He thinks there is still room below for another player: Gita.

This is a transport robot that looks like a spherical pig on wheels, and for Schnapp, who helped invent it, it is nothing less than: the future of mobility. "Humans have the greatest autonomy in locomotion when they walk", says the scientist, who deals equally with the Roman poet Virgil, urban architecture and artificial intelligence. But too few walk. On the one hand, because there is no status associated with walking, and on the other hand, because many people simply do not feel like carrying their office bags and purchases themselves.

This is where Gita comes into play, which was developed by Piaggio Fast Forward, the Boston future laboratory of the Italian Vespa manufacturer. Schnapp is a co-founder of the start-up. Gitas have been on sale for a few weeks, so far only in the USA, in small numbers, for $ 3,250. Gita does not speak and has no other human attributes, but with the camera holes in the front, which are reminiscent of an animal's snout, and the wheel covers that look like floppy ears, Gita looks so cute that a sharp "Uuuuhh" comes through at the DLD digital conference in Munich walked the room when Jeffrey Schnapp presented the load trolley in the video.

Using 360-degree cameras and sensors, Gita scans the area so as not to knock over lanterns or people. When activated, the robot analyzes the body silhouette, gait and other data and now knows who to follow. Gita works without face recognition, without GPS, and its battery lasts four hours. If it is running low, the wheels flash merrily. It weighs 23 kilos, can be loaded with 18 kilos, a large shopping bag fits in. Gita can cope with ramps, but not stairs. It drives in rain and sun and can do up to ten kilometers an hour. He adapts to the owner. If he runs fast, Gita increases the distance; if he strolls, he moves up. "The most complicated part was teaching Gita etiquette," says Schnapp. Etiquette? Well, knowing when to dodge. "People behave irrationally, a robot has to take that into account too."

Gita would never perform complex actions like R2D2, the faithful robot from "Star Wars", who screws and thinks. Gita submits, is more for dog people than cat people. Gita could do a lot more, says Jeffrey Schnapp, for example going on tours alone to bring your forgotten bag to the office. He could speak, and communicate more in other ways, the technology would be available - but he shouldn't. Or not yet. In order to establish itself on the market, the load trolley should work as simply as possible and be small, which distinguishes it from other robots, such as that of the developer Starship, which already allows pushchair-sized robots to drive over one or the other US campus.

Gita can be used in most US states

Piaggio has been developing the robot for three years. The name Gita comes from Italian and means "short excursion". The first versions were nevertheless intended for longer tours; they reached 35 kilometers an hour and were three times as big. A transport bomb that crashes down the sidewalk in a toothy mood may excite robotics fans, but not the approval authorities. Gita got leaner and slower and is now allowed to roll in most US states. Traffic law, data protection and liability issues need to be clarified elsewhere, also because cargo robots do not yet exist as a vehicle category. Europe wants to tackle Piaggio in autumn.

Of course, Jeffrey Schnapp knows the concerns when transport balls roll around on crowded and narrow pedestrian paths. "But what a relief would it be for people in wheelchairs if they could have their shopping behind them?" He asks. "How many people would consider stopping driving to work or the supermarket because they no longer have to haul?"

You don't know. What is clear, however, is that urban planners today think differently than their predecessors. "For almost 100 years, cities were built around the automobile," says Schnapp. He sees Gita as the "catalyst" of a counter-trend. It's more than a vision. Many German cities want to reduce motorized individual traffic to 20 percent in the foreseeable future. The Munich city council, for example, set the target for 2025. There should be more space for buses, bicycles and electric scooters. The sidewalks should also be wider. There might also be a place for Gita and his brothers.

© SZ from 02/08/2020 / mkoh / vs