The Cute Robot That Follows You Around and Schleps All Your Stuff
IN THE SUMMER months of 2015, Jeffrey Schnapp and a few of his colleagues started collecting rideables. The hoverboard craze was in full swing, and OneWheels and Boosteds were showing up on roads and sidewalks. Schnapp and his co-founders rode, drove, and crashed everything they could find. For Schnapp, a Harvard professor and longtime technologist with a shaved head, pointy goatee, and a distinct Ben Kingsley vibe, this was market research.
A few months earlier, Schnapp had met with the leadership team at the Piaggio Group, maker of the Vespa and one of the world’s largest mobility companies. His work as a cultural historian often brought Schnapp to Italy, where Piaggio is based. He met with a few folks for what he thought was coffee in Milan, but turned into a job interview. Piaggio made its plea: The 133-year-old company was struggling to keep up with the times. Ride sharing, the internet of things, self-driving cars—everything was changing around Piaggio, but “their feeling was that they weren’t going to come up with really visionary and innovative answers within their company,” Schnapp says. Piaggio needed a smaller, nimbler place, ideally one a little closer to the tech action than central Italy.
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Photo credit: Ingo Meckmann/Piaggio Fast Forward