January 18, 2021 |Written by Harriet Baskas
The pandemic has made contactless food and drink ordering, payment, pickup and in-terminal delivery at airports more desirable than ever. Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway Airports, as well as airports in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and other cities, are using ordering platforms that passengers can access via websites, mobile devices, QR codes and kiosks. And now, a new pilot program is rolling out to make meal deliveries in airports safer.
At San Diego International (SAN), one of the airports where AtYourGate employees deliver food and retail items, a small robot can be spotted following about three feet behind humans on their way to make deliveries. When the time comes to hand over the order, the AtYourGate employee pushes a button to open the robot’s lid and then steps away to allow the customer to reach into the storage bin and pick it out themselves.
Piaggio Fast Forward, the parent company of Vespa scooters, launched ‘gita’ to the consumer market in 2019. The round, low-to-the-ground robot rolls along at a top speed of 6.6 miles per hour and its lidded compartment can carry up to 40 pounds. Through April 2021, AtYourGate will test a total of eight gita robots as delivery aids at SAN and other airports including New York’s JFK (in Delta Terminal 4), Minneapolis International Airport and others.
Beyond drawing lots of attention and social media posts for the delivery service, the gita robot adds an extra layer of safety to food deliveries. “Customers can take their items out of the robot without ever having to come near our people,” said AtYourGate’s founder and CEO, PJ Mastracchio. Gita may also offer some efficiency opportunities. “When dealing with IROPS [irregular operations], catered meetings or special events, the unit will allow one [employee] to carry dozens of orders,” Mastracchio added. “And since these orders always go to one location, such as a gate or break room, it cuts down significantly on labor cost.”
Seeing robots in airports is nothing new, of course. In some airports, robots offer directions and answer questions. And since the pandemic, many airports have added innovative sanitizing robots to their maintenance teams.
Gita could end up being of service at airports in more ways than contactless meal delivery. Piaggio Fast Forward’s CEO, Greg Lynn, envisions the little follow-along robot hauling a passenger’s carry-on goods around the airport before they board a plane, or helping as a passenger assistance device for travelers with mobility limitations. He said Gita could also help airport employees by moving laptops, meeting materials and sanitization supplies around airports: “This is a much more attractive proposition during the pandemic than having a wheeled bag pulled or a bag of purchases carried to a gate by a stranger.”