Design Worth Reading About

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INGO MECKMANN/PIAGGIO FAST FORWARD

Sometimes it makes more sense to look at a design rather than read about it. This story is in itself interesting (thanks to Wired) and that is because of the combination of the history of Piaggio and the character at the center of the design story:

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.

Initially, Schnapp conceived of this new project, called Piaggio Fast Forward, as a sort of internal think tank. That lasted all of one meeting, for which he convened a group of architects, artists, and technologists to dream big about the future of everything. “By the end of that I was pulled aside by the leadership of the company,” Schnapp says. “We have a lot of good ideas, so forget the think tank. Let’s build a company.” He likes to call PFF a “Do Tank,” part hands-on research and part for-profit manufacturer. They set up shop in an old Hood Dairy factory on a sleepy block in Boston, and went to work.

Despite all their rideable testing, and Piaggio’s long heritage, the PFF crew quickly decided a human-moving vehicle wasn’t yet for them. Not yet, anyway. “When we complete our family of vehicles, don’t exclude it,” Schnapp says. The team’s first product is Gita, a round rolling robot that can carry up to 40 pounds of cargo for miles at a time. Rather than get you from A to B as fast as possible, it’s meant to get you there more easily. More than that, Gita is a way to begin to explore what the world looks like when humans and robots share the sidewalk. And, hopefully, to make that idea seem a little less scary…

Read the whole story here.

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