AI News, Piaggio's Cargo Robot Uses Visual SLAM to Follow You Anywhere

Piaggio's Cargo Robot Uses Visual SLAM to Follow You Anywhere

It seems like the easiest thing to do would be to just have Gita follow a beacon that the user carries (either a phone or some kind of dedicated wearable).But PFF also wants Gita to eventually be able to navigate completely by itself, even if the user isn’t nearby (a capability that would let the robot make deliveries, like the autonomous robot delivery service being developed by London startup Starship Technologies).

But rather than doing person-tracking, it’s actually comparing its SLAM picture with the SLAM that the user is doing, thanks to a stereoscopic camera on the user’s belt: “Basicallywhat the vehicles are doing is comparing the point-cloud maps that are being generated by the human operatorto what the vehicle itself is seeing,”PFF CEO Jeffrey Schnapp tells IEEE Spectrum.What that means is that the robot is “leveraging the power of humans as navigators of complex environments,” he adds.

“Having human operators, in essence, teach robotic vehicles [to navigate] the world, and then later setting them on relatively local autonomous missionsis a smart initial way to begin to create a culture where sidewalk spaces are shared by humans and robots.” PFF is very clear about its “human-centric” idea for Gita, which is a refreshing approach in an industry making an occasionally questionable push for full autonomy as quickly as possible.

“Initially, we’re operating the [robots]at pedestrian speeds, from slow walking to running,”Schnapp told us.“We want to make sure that our core usage scenario, which is very much connected to pedestrians and human motion, is rock-solid before we start tackling the challenges of following a bicycle.

We’ve done a little bit of testing and we know Gitas can do this, but we’re not fully there yet.” Over the next few months, PFF will be doing lots of real-world testing of the robots in all of their modalities, which includes person-following and autonomous operation.Some of the scenarios involveassisting people who have to carry heavy things around all day in semistructured environments.

Why Piaggio built Gita, a cargo-carrying robot, to follow in your footsteps

Piaggio, the Italian company that makes Vespa scooters and Moto Guzzi motorcycles, revealed its newest development this week: a personal delivery device or “cargo robot,” called the Gita.

Piaggio Fast Forward has taken a different approach to circumventing traffic on the ground than other startups in this space, such as the delivery drone makers Flirtey and Zipline or Starship Technologies, which makes semi-autonomous personal delivery robots. The Gita has to follow a human around to learn how to navigate around a new environment.

If a device is following a person then that person has the lead, and powers the most important decisions around the robot’s movement.” Hoffman also said running Gita units indoors and out with select partners will help the company amass a database of location data that’s not available through resources like Google Maps today.

It’d be the dumbest thing in the world to try to steal or break into.” In the next six months, Piaggio Fast Forward plans to run pilot tests with Gita on different college campuses and in towns in the U.S. The company is not thinking about delivering burritos or groceries, so much.

This Robot Will Carry Your Stuff and Follow You Around

Inside an industrial building in Somerville, Massachusetts, I’m watching a robot follow someone around like an eager puppy.

A nearby laptop shows the world as perceived by the robot: a “point-cloud” of dots representing the 3-D shape of the room and the hallway outside, generated using a series of cameras attached to the bot’s body.

The sensors, control systems, and electric propulsion used in the new robot could all prove crucial for future Piaggio products, says Michele Colaninno, chairman of the board of Piaggio Fast Forward.

Still, as with many of the ideas being tested by transportation companies, including self-driving taxis, semi-automated trucks, and delivery drones, the underlying technology, as well as the potential applications, remain a bit unproven.

Rather than more expensive sensors such as lidar, which bounce a laser off objects to build a 3-D picture, the robot maps its environment using video cameras.

Schnapp says the video mapping system can be less reliable in poor lighting or bad weather, and they are considering adding a light to the robot to address this.

The robot follows peoplenot by tracking them, but by comparing its view of the world to one captured from a set of cameras on a belt that’s worn by theperson it's following.


The Gita (pronounced 'jee-ta') is the first project from Fast Forward, a new offshoot from the larger Piaggio Group.

It's 22 inches tall, with the smooth, shiny surface broken only by the large rubber treads and the assortment of cameras that help the Gita navigate.

All told, the length of the storage unit was enough to lay my 14-inch notebook down with room to spare around the edges, and I could have easily stacked more laptops and books on top of it, plus my DSLR.

The belts are currently rough, bulky prototypes, with a cooling unit clearly visible inside the 3D-printed housing.

This can be useful for letting it run errands -- one of the current ideas is to have Gita do deliveries, only unlocking its compartments once it's reached the intended recipient.

Gitas can also work together in a convoy, communicating with each other about their surroundings and traveling in a straight line like ducklings following their mother.

Chairman of the Board Michele Colaninno mentioned even asking his children what they'd like to see the Gita do -- and after a half hour, they came back with a list of 40 options.

But Piaggio sees it as yet another way to increase people's personal freedom and mobility -- something its scooters do well in cities where automobile traffic and parking are big problems.

The Cute Robot That Follows You Around and Schleps All Your Stuff

In the summer months of 2015, Jeffrey Schnapp and a few of his colleagues started collecting rideables.

For Schnapp, a Harvard professor and longtime technologist with a shaved head, pointy goatee, and a distinct Ben Kingsley vibe, this was market research.

few months earlier, Schnapp had met with the leadership team at the Piaggio Group, maker of the Vespa and one of the world's largest mobility companies.

Ride sharing, the internet of things, self-driving cars—everything was changing around Piaggio, but "their feeling was that they weren't going to come up with really visionary and innovative answers within their company,"

Piaggio needed a smaller, nimbler place, ideally one a little closer to the tech action than central Italy.

That lasted all of one meeting, for which he convened a group of architects, artists, and technologists to dream big about the future of everything.

Despite all their rideable testing, and Piaggio's long heritage, the PFF crew quickly decided a human-moving vehicle wasn't yet for them.

The team's first product is Gita, a round rolling robot that can carry up to 40 pounds of cargo for miles at a time.

the BBC wrote in 2013, "while its step-through frame meant that women could ride it in skirts, and its concealed engine—tucked under the seat or over its small back wheel—kept oil, grease and dirt from chic Italian clothes."

You can lock the bot's cargo hold with your fingerprint, park it outside where it'll wait for you to come back, or roll it right up any ADA-compliant ramp and take it inside.

The PFF team has lots of ideas: It could help you carry groceries home, carry your bags as you shop, help shuttle supplies across a huge office or theme park.

But you can't buy one yet: the company's running limited pilots this year, then plans a bigger enterprise rollout in 2018.

For now, Hoffman says PFF's working on perfecting the bot's driving skills, improving its computer vision and processing, and looking to testers to figure out what Gita might be great for.

At their February launch event, the team also showed off Kilo, a larger model that can carry up to 250 pounds and looks a little like a spaceship.

They're thinking about lots of other vehicles, including ones that probably look more like hoverboards and skateboards than little cargo robots.

They're also interested in what happens when their bots have mapped more indoor and outdoor spaces, or when their cameras can recognize humans and objects.

"Our vision of what the world will look like in ten years is that someone else will build the autonomous cars.