Ford, Agility Robotics partner to get deliveries from self-driving vehicles to the door using robotics



Ford has partnered with Agility Robotics to help self-driving vehicles complete the final step of getting a delivery from the car to a customer’s door using robotics.

Through its pilot programs, Ford has learned that it’s not always convenient for people to leave their homes to retrieve deliveries or for businesses to run their own delivery services.

With this in mind, Ford is optimistic that Digit, a two-legged robot designed and built by Agility Robotics, could be the key to solving this issue. Capable of lifting packages that weigh up to 40 pounds, the robot, built out of lightweight material, can go up and down stairs, walk naturally through uneven terrain, and even react to things like being bumped without losing its balance and falling over.

Ford notes that Digit has been designed to walk upright without wasting energy, so it has no issue maneuvering the same types of environments most people do every day. Thanks to its design, Digit can also tightly fold itself up for easy storage in the back of a self-driving vehicle until it needs to be used.

“Once a self-driving car arrives at its destination, Digit can be deployed to grab a package from the vehicle and carry out the final step in the delivery process,” Ford says.

Ford notes that Digit also has a “hidden advantage,” beyond its ability to just traverse objects. Digit needs to function on its own, but there is also a desire to keep the robot lightweight and capable of dynamic movement, which led to an innovative idea: Letting it tap the resources of another robot — one that’s equipped with advanced sensors and heavy computing hardware — for additional support and analytical skills when needed.

“A self-driving vehicle is capable of creating a detailed map of the surrounding environment, so why not share that data with Digit instead of having it recreate the same type of information?” Ford says.

“After all, both Digit and the self-driving car need to know where they are in the world, where they need to go and how to get there.”

As a result, when a self-driving vehicle brings Digit to its final destination, the vehicle can wirelessly deliver all the information it needs, including the best pathway to the front door. This data exchange allows Digit to work collaboratively with a vehicle to situate itself and begin making its delivery.

Digit is equipped with lidar and a few stereo cameras, giving it just enough sensory power to navigate through basic scenarios. If it runs into an unexpected obstacle, it can send an image back to the vehicle and have the vehicle come up with a solution.

The car could even send that information into the cloud and request help from other systems to help Digit navigate, which provides multiple levels of assistance that help keep the robot light and nimble.

Digit has a long run time thanks to its light weight, which is “essential for a self-driving delivery business that will be operating most of the day,” Ford notes.

“Through our collaboration with Agility, we are striving to determine the best way for our self-driving vehicles to cooperate with Digit and understand how this new delivery method can be taken advantage of in the future,” Ford says.