It’s hard to get good help. Or even persuade your self-concerned fam and friends to carry your heavy stuff around for you. So when we heard about a new tech tool that will follow you around quietly and do the heavy toting without complaint, we were intrigued. Say hello to my little friend Gita, the knee-high cube of a robot that became my shopping buddy this past Saturday in Santa Monica.
First off, she (yep, we anthropomorphized her, it’s unavoidable—but more about that in a minute) is easy to use. After turning on the machine, you stand a foot in front of gita and the six cameras on her chassis read your shape so that Gita can follow you and not anyone else. Then you can just turn around and—voilà—this little R2D2-looking machine will follow three feet behind you while you make your way down the sidewalk, across grassy parks or even over hard-packed soil (not sand yet, but the maker’s rep we spoke to said maybe soon). Here she is in action.
My Gita was bright red (it also comes in blue or gray), a squat little persimmon rolling along at the Santa Monica-Pico farmers market as I wandered from the root veggies vendor to sample grape leaves at the hummus stand. As we rolled along, I had to be mindful of where I was walking, due to the robot’s two-foot-wide girth and the fact that its movements aren’t as nimble as a human’s (even my sleepy morning ambling). We did pretty well, except once Gita inelegantly mowed down one of the supports to a purveyor’s canopy. Embarrassed, I nudged it back up and said sternly, “Bad Gita!”
Gita’s maker is Piaggio Fast Forward (part of the group that makes the jazzy Italian scooter of the same name) and company reps say to imagine you’re walking around with a small child—basically, be mindful of where you are walking and move a little slower than usual. Speaking of small children, as I moved around the market, the 7-and-under set tittered when they saw the machine. “This is a robot to carry your stuff,” I told them. They looked at me like, Duh. Two moms walking by drolly commented “What a time to be alive” as they carried toddlers and pushed shopping carts. We locked eyes and laughed. Don’t worry, your kids will be wheeling you around in these before too long.
But not quite yet. Piaggio Fast Forward says Gita is not balanced enough to place living things inside (because of course I asked about dogs and babies). And the whole point is, according to the company, to get us all to walk around more. The idea is that you can, say, walk to your nearby shopping center without lugging heavy groceries back home. You can stuff up to 40 pounds of groceries or whatever into Gita’s carry space (the model I tried didn’t have a lid, but they are sold with lockable lids so you don’t have to worry about your purse being taken from Gita as it trails behind).
As Gita followed me to my car (because I don’t live a 10-minute walk from a farmers market) and I lifted my watermelon radishes and five different lettuces into my trunk, I had a funny feeling—a little sadness that this uncomplaining and steadfast little red flash was going to leave me now. Ah, well, I don’t have $3,250 at the ready to adopt buy my own Gita. (My friend connection to this inanimate object might be part of why the Piaggio Fast Forward asked me to spell her name with a lower-case "g" because her name means "little trip" in Italian. But Gita, you'll always be my proper noun tote-or-die.)
TLDR: The morning definitely piqued my interest in robots as helpers, so I’ll be keeping an eye on this product category. And maybe I’ll just happen by one of the remaining L.A. demos in December—or one of Gita’s San Diego appearances in January 2020. You know, just to say hi.