Rise of the Machines Part 6: Self Driving Drones

Drones are hot, especially the flying ones. Their greatest benefit is their ability to perform arial surveys at very low cost. Packed with sensors and still evolving in range and size they are loved by information centric organizations. A drone’s ability to carry cargo, however, is still somewhat cumbersome. Information has no weight but physical things are subject to Newton’s law of gravity which has so far prevented flying cars to really happen. Cargo drones that can carry more than 5 kg are rare and start at €2500. More payload plus a wider flight range increases price in a non-linear fashion. Wheels therefore remain indispensable when it comes to carry cargo that is more sizeable or needs to be transported over longer distances. Self driving cars are great for moving people and cargo over larger distances but not for people roaming a shopping mall or city center. This challenge was taken on by Vespa’s subsidiary Piaggo Fast Forward, that just introduced its Gita robot. Pilots have been planned for this year so it is not yet for sale and has no price tag.

The Gita is a crossover of a selfdriving car, a suitcase and a hoverboard. It is a two wheel transport vehicle that can follow its owner for 8 hours and can carry up to 18 kilos. It is the cargo companion for those that require someone or something to do the heavy lifting when shopping groceries or for fun. It could certainly fulfill cargo tasks for disabled people, older people or people that just have their hands full watching their children. But one should not rule out the attraction it may have for a younger generation who could just see it as cool vehicle that complements their hoverboard.

Downsides are plenty. As long as the Gita is for the happy few it is OK, but just imagine if it becomes an overnight hit and Gita’s start filling up the high street, obediently following their bosses. Shopping malls and city centers will clog and a battle between the electronic roller case and the pedestrian over right of way is unavoidable. The self driving feature also means that they can be sent home on their own account so its owner can continue his trip with a pub visit. Self driving cars are allowed under strict rules in certain areas and countries, and drivers must be ready to intervene. But there is no legal definition for self driving luggage. Vehicles such as a Segway, hoverboard and speed pedelec may have a difficult time find a safe place in existing traffic infrastructures but just wait when we see luggage vehicles without drivers crisscrossing the cities: another headache for authorities. Or try to imagine a Gita following its owner’s speed pedelec in a busy city center at 35 Km/h. Finally, the Gita is secured by its owner’s fingerprint and equipped with board cameras and an ultra sonic range finding system. But that doesn’t mean it is safe of course. Think about it: it is alone, it is electronic, caries value and nobody will come to rescue it. A field day for thieves, hackers and vandals.