24 May 19

Ford unveils walking robot to bring parcels to your doorstep

Ford isn’t the only manufacturer working on autonomous vehicles by far. Passenger vehicles, buses and shuttles, ridehailing vehicles and delivery vans: chances are there will be self-driving variants on our roads within the next decade or so. But in the case of delivery vans, how do you get the package from the van to the customer’s front door? Ford’s answer: you use a walking delivery robot.

In close collaboration with Agility Robotics, an Oregon-based start-up, Ford developed Digit, a robot capable of walking and carrying package that weigh up to 40 pounds (just under 20kg). It (he? she?) can go up and down stairs, walk naturally through uneven terrain and react to unplanned events like bumping into something without losing balance and falling over.

In order to maximise the van’s payload, the robot can be folded up when not in use. And because engineers wanted to make it as lightweight as possible, Digit relies on the vehicle’s processing power for detailed information including the best path to the front door.

Digit is itself outfitted with lidar and various cameras, which should be enough to navigate basic pedestrian scenarios. Should the robot get stuck, it can send an image back to the vehicle and have the vehicle work out a solution it can send back to the robot. If the vehicle cannot figure it out, it can send its request to the cloud and request help from other systems.

Digit’s lightweight construction also ensures a long run time, essential for in the delivery business where self-driving vehicles will probably be operational most of the day.

This all sounds very promising and exciting. There is one piece of bad news, though: the Ford Digit is only a prototype that is currently in testing. No word yet on commercial production launch dates.

Image source: Ford

Authored by: Benjamin Uyttebroeck