Ford gets help delivering door-to-door autonomously

Ford taps into autonomous vehicle systems to develop robot for final steps

Published: May 24, 2019, 4:55 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 2:53 PM

Digit, robot for delivery

Ford has taken huge strides toward putting automated vehicles to work, mostly in the delivery field where an automated delivery van can bring a package or food to the curb and customers can punch in a code to retrieve it from one of the vehicles’ storage boxes.

However, not all customers who take advantage of home delivery are mobile enough to efficiently meet the delivery vehicle at the road and then have to make their way back to their homes with a package. That has led Ford to work with Agility Robotics to develop Digit, a 2-legged robot that takes final delivery step to bring deliveries from the curb to the front door.

Digit is designed to “walk” on two legs, while carrying packages that weigh up to 18 kg. The lightweight robot can walk naturally over uneven terrain and can even negotiate stairs and counterbalance itself when it’s bumped. Although wheels might help a robot deal with uneven terrain more smoothly, it doesn’t help it negotiate some of the other little obstacles humans take for granted.

It is able to fold itself up in the back of an autonomous vehicle, taking advantage of all the self-navigation techniques of the latter (such as pinpointing where exactly it is in the world) and when it’s called upon, it can unfold itself from the vehicle and grab the package for delivery, again tapping into the vehicle’s awareness of its surroundings to work out a pathway from where the vehicle stops to the place of package-reception.

The rest, it handles on its own, through its system of cameras and LiDAR. And it too can communicate with everything (V2X) to presumably supply entry codes where needed to ensure safe and secure deliveries.

“Whether we are working side-by-side with robots in our numerous factories around the world or living with them as they help push packages to our door, our primary goal is to ensure they are safe, reliable and capable of working alongside people in intelligent ways,” Dr. Ken Washington, Ford  Vice President of Research and Advanced Engineering and Chief Technology Officer wrote on “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.”