Sunday August 09, 2020

Agility Robotics sells humanoid delivery robots to Ford

Agility Robotics' Digit delivery robot
Agility Robotics' Digit delivery robot

Ford has partnered with US start-up Agility Robotics to use its newly launched robot, Digit, which is fitted with arms and legs, to soon have it carry parcels from the delivery vehicle right to the customer’s door.

Ford Motor Company is the first customer for the humanoid robot and has received the first two robots off the production line. The cooperation continues the existing partnership between Agility and Ford to explore ways to make warehousing and delivery more efficient and affordable for their customers.

Though Digit has only just been released, Ford signed up as its first buyer, wanting to enhance driverless pick-up and delivery by solving indoor or first-mile logistics as well as the last-50-feet delivery problem.

Researchers will also focus on how Ford’s commercial vehicles and Digit can “talk” to each other and their surroundings through advanced connectivity technologies. For example, Ford’s connected vehicles can continually update cloud-based maps that can be shared with Digit so it doesn’t have to recreate the same type of information.

Ford expects that, as Digit will be part of a package delivery service, this communication channel will also provide delivery specific information such as where a customer prefers packages to be left, or other individual package delivery needs. This communication channel also allows Digit to ask for help if something unexpected is encountered.

Ken Washington, vice president, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, commented: “As online retailing continues growing, we believe robots will help our commercial customers build stronger businesses by making deliveries more efficient and affordable for all of us.

“We learned a lot this year working with Agility, now we can accelerate our exploratory work with commercial Digit robots.”

Agility sold its breakthrough robot Cassie as a bipedal research platform from August 2017 through July 2019, and has spent the latter half of 2019 transitioning production over to Digit. Since the first Digit prototype was shown in May, Agility Robotics has tested it extensively, refined the design, and added features to be ready for production and sale to customers.

Dr. Damion Shelton, CEO of Agility, commented: “Digit represents a major milestone for Agility. For the first time, a full humanoid robot - with both mobility and manipulation capabilities - will be available for customer applications in a wide variety of industries, both indoor and outdoor. We look forward to showing off our work on both logistics and non-logistics tasks in the coming months.”

Digit has been designed to walk upright without wasting energy, so it has no issue traversing the same types of environments most people do every day. Digit’s unique design also allows it to tightly fold itself up for easy storage in the back of a vehicle until it’s called into action.

Once a vehicle 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. If it encounters an unexpected obstacle, it can send an image back to the vehicle to leverage additional computing power.

The vehicle could even send that information into the cloud and request help from other systems to enable Digit to navigate, providing multiple levels of assistance that help keep the robot light and nimble. Digit’s light weight also helps ensure it has a long run time, which is essential for delivery businesses that operate continuously through the business day.


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