By Laura Smythe – Reporter, Philadelphia Business Journal
Feb 22, 2021
Philadelphia International Airport’s concessions program is piloting robotic food delivery to customers at the travel hub as a new addition to its contactless ordering platform OrderatPHL.com.
Named Gita (pronounced “jee-ta,” meaning “short trip” in Italian), the robot is powered by digital service AtYourGate and “smart following technology” company Piaggio Fast Forward, which was founded in 2015 by Boston entity Piaggio Group. Piaggio Group is the Italian manufacturer and creator of the well-known Vesper scooter.
Gita is the first product from Piaggio Fast Forward and is a following robot designed to carry 40 pounds for up to four hours, which the company equates to roughly 20 miles of walking, on a single charge. The tech entity specializes in pedestrian mobility intelligence and aims to create mobile tech solutions that mirror the way people move to ultimately help them complete day-to-day tasks.
The robots at PHL pair with a human delivery person by way of visual sensors, allowing them to follow the person at a distance, said Megan O’Connell, marketing and customer service manager at MarketPlace PHL. Gita stops when the delivery person stops and turns when the delivery person turns. If the robot hits any type of road block, it immediately stops and pauses until it relocates its delivery person.
Gita pairs to, follows and reacts to its user’s actions without GPS, and functions both indoors and outdoors. Using computer sensor visitation, the robot takes in information in pedestrian-dense environments to effectively adapt to its surroundings in real time, according to Piaggio Fast Forward. The company’s overall vision is to help cities move toward sustainable mobility, where transportation becomes more active and less car-focused.
Eateries at PHL that are using the robotic delivery technology include Auntie Anne’s, Bud & Marilyn’s, Chickie’s and Pete’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Geno’s Steaks and Smashburger.
The robot can navigate most anywhere in PHL beyond the TSA security checkpoints, O’Connell noted.
Gita offers a hands-free option for employees, vendors and travelers at airports during Covid-19 as businesses seek more contactless offerings, Piaggio Fast Forward CEO Greg Lynn said in a statement.
The pilot program will run through April, at which point PHL “will analyze and determine next steps” for whether Gita sticks around, O’Connell said.
PHL isn’t investing additional capital in the pilot aside from what was already funneled into the travel hub’s contactless ordering program, for which a total cost is “difficult to summarize due to the variable number of participating businesses and volume of customers,” she added.