Why Italian vehicle-maker Piaggio set up a new lab to design robots

Michele Colaninno, Chairman of the Board of Piaggio Fast Forward.

Michele Colaninno is emphatic about what he didn’t want from a new lab that the vehicle-maker Piaggio Group set up in 2015.

“We didn’t want to create just a think tank,” says Colaninno, a director of Piaggio and chief executive of the company that owns it, Immsi Group. “We agreed that we must have an output that would be a physical product. It was not intended to be a research team.”

But while Piaggio, headquartered in Pontedera, Italy, is best-known for the scooters and motorcycles it produces — Vespa and Moto Guzzi are among its brands — the new lab, dubbed Piaggio Fast Forward, wouldn’t necessarily be creating vehicles with two or four wheels that would travel on roads. “I don’t think the evolution of mobility is still four wheels with an engine,” Colaninno says. “The car is a 1900s idea.”

Among the challenges that Colaninno wanted Piaggio Fast Forward to explore were traffic congestion, pollution, and moving goods efficiently in dense urban areas — perhaps the next generation of a messenger zipping through gridlock astride a Vespa.

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