retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Two interesting stories over the past few days about how new transportation-oriented business models are adapting to consumer desires and realities.

The Tampa Bay Times has a story about a new function within the Uber app that is being tested there - Uber Pet, which allows users to bring along their pets when they order up a car, for a $4 surcharge.

“We anticipate cats and dogs to be the most frequent, but Uber Pet allows for any kind of animal to be brought on a trip — at the drivers’ discretion,” Uber said in a statement. “Riders are responsible for their animals’ behavior during an Uber Pet trip.”

In the past, pets could be brought along on any trip, but it was completely up to the drivers whether to allow the animal in the car. Now, the pet part of it is being institutionalized. And monetized. And, as it happens, Uber drivers will now be rating not just their passengers, but also their passengers' pets.

Service animals can be brought along in any Uber, and their owners won't be charged the extra fee.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has a story about how a Boston-based startup, Piaggio Fast Forward (which happens to be own by the Vespa scooter folks), has developed a new transportation option, Gita, described as a "brightly colored, carbon-fiber robot that looks like some futuristic mixture of an exercise ball and cooler, or perhaps a commercial-size rice cooker flipped on its side and strapped to a pair of rubber bicycle wheels."

Gita's purpose is simple - it is a robotic pack mule. If you're out walking, it'll carry your stuff for you so you don't have to.

There are limits. Gita can't go upstairs, for example.

The Post writes: "Following its owner at up to six miles per hour, gita can carry up to 40 pounds of belongings inside an inner compartment that is big enough to hold about two grocery bags … The 22-inch-tall vehicle has up to four hours of battery time, relies on multiple cameras for navigation and is designed to operate on hard surfaces (no snow or sand) …. The robot pairs to its owner’s legs with cameras that scan and track their motion. The vehicle can also discern when other people enter its field of view, allowing the robot to go around them and continue following its paired user."

The notion is that all the various transportation-focused technologies that have made it possible for us to ride everywhere - whether Uber or Lyft or bike shares or scooters - also are conspiring to prevent people from getting needed exercise. Gita will enable to people to go for walks when they do their shopping, but not worry about having to schlep stuff around.

"“We’re trying to unlock the value of walkability in American towns and cities with a device that will appeal to people that are primarily driving and taking Ubers for their short errands and trips,” says Greg Lynn, the company's co-founder and CEO. "And we’re trying to convince people that it’s mentally and physically healthier to walk that mile instead of electric scootering or bicycle-sharing it."

Interesting stuff, and all Eye-Opening indicators of how the world is changing.
KC's View: