Consumer-focused personal robots have a spotty history.
In 2017, Jibo was touted as the world’s first social robot for the home, but it ended up flopping soon after. Bosch took a stab a creating a rolling robot named Kuri in 2018, and months later the product was a dud.
Now another company is taking a stab at it, launching a new yet familiar spin on personal service machines.
Rather than keeping you company at home, gita (pronounced Jee-Tah) wants to help you go hands-free while you walk down the street, to the grocery store or to visit your neighbors. Like the name, which means “outing” in Italian, the robotic valet is for short trips out and about.
Launched by the Piaggio Group, which introduced the world to Vespa, the nifty gadget uses five cameras to see you, follow you around and carry up to 40 pounds of your belongings for four hours.
It’s similar to those robotic smart suitcases that trail behind you at the airport, but with an entirely different exterior design. Picture a mega-sized Tide PODS container but on wheels. That’s what gita looks like in the flagship orange color.
It’s round and hefty yet relatively nimble and intuitive. The robotic helper is a joy to engage with, sort of like a puppy, but there are some quirks.
Operating gita is simple. You just press one button to turn it on, one button for the cameras to scan your legs, and you’re off. It actually does a pretty good job of following you and recognizing when you change direction.
Its movement is oddly natural. When you speed up it lags behind a bit before trying to catch up, and when you stop, it stops – usually. The 50-pound robot’s makers say gita operates best on hard surfaces. However, it can’t go upstairs.
In some ways, gita feels like a pet that you wouldn’t have to feed. It seemingly perks up the moment you turn it on and plops down on the ground once you turn it off.
“It’s the first robot that you ‘drive’ by doing something that you have been doing since you were a toddler … walking,” said Jeffrey Schnapp, co-founder of Piaggio Fast Forward. “No little screen to distract you from the world, no joystick, no need to pore over a hefty technical manual, no need to issue voice commands.”
A system of sounds and lights will let you know whether it unpaired randomly or needs a charge. And an app lets you share your robot with your “crew,” so it can follow them, too. As for privacy, gita does not record pictures or videos and has no way to identify who it is following, according to the company.
It also has a speaker, so your gita can carry candy and play theme music as you you take the kids trick-or-treating.
However, it didn’t seem to enjoy cramped spaces. And it may be too cumbersome to operate in busy metro areas, in part, because an onslaught of people may throw it off course, and partially because several people will stop you to ask what the heck is following you.
USA TODAY tech reporter Ed Baig gave gita a test run in 2017 when it was still a prototype. Baig said, “gita certainly made quite an impression on passersby as it rolled down New York’s busy Madison Avenue.”
Lastly, having tech intuitively trail behind you takes some getting used to. You can’t help but look behind you to make sure it’s keeping up, kinda like monitoring a toddler.
The $3,250 robot will be available on Nov. 18 at Mygita.com.