Ford is buying these walking robots, but why?

They deliver packages. What does a car company want with them?


Instead of a drone or an autonomous vehicle, your next package might be delivered by a bipedal robot. Digit, which was created by a startup called Agility Robotics, is a package-delivery robot that Ford has already started purchasing.

This human-sized robot is now for sale, and it has a “the low-mid six figures” price tag, Agility Robotics CEO Damion Shelton told The Verge. It is designed to help with last-mile package delivery, but it can also be used in warehouses and other settings. The robot uses LIDAR and other sensors to navigate.

Digit was just demoed at CES, and as you can see in the video below, it moves pretty cautiously.

Shelton told The Verge that while Digit clearly demonstrates how it can be used to deliver packages, there are a range of different ways it could be utilized.

“For example, indoor logistics can look like warehouse/stockroom work, or moving containers of parts in a multi-level cleanroom,” Shelton said. “Inspection includes both dedicated inspection (as in a rail yard or factory) or incidental inspection like monitoring city infrastructure (telephone poles, etc) while performing a delivery task.”

That said, Shelton made it clear that Agility Robotics will not be selling Digit to anyone who wants to use it for lethal purposes. He said his company will have a “contractual clause” that will prevent this from happening.

While the robots clearly could be used for any number of job-eliminating purposes, Ford has kept mum on what exactly it will be using Digit to accomplish. The Detroit-based automative giant used a press statement to obliquely declare that the robots will “explore ways to help commercial vehicle customers, including autonomous vehicle businesses, make warehousing and delivery more efficient and affordable for their customers.” The company says that it hopes its future vehicles will learn to “talk” to Digit, sharing cloud-based maps and other tools.

Ford announced last year it was teaming up with Agility Robotics to see how Digit could help us meet our package delivery needs.

“Since self-driving vehicles can potentially move people and goods simultaneously, they hold great potential to make deliveries even more convenient and efficient,” the company wrote at the time. “Digit’s unique design also allows it to tightly fold itself up for easy storage in the back of a self-driving vehicle until it’s called into action. 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.”

Agility Robotics will only produce between 20 and 30 Digit robots this year, but it will significantly increase how many robots it’s producing annually in 2021. The robot is mostly autonomous, but Shelton told IEEE at the end of last year that some of its functions require human involvement.

“Picking and placing the box is fully autonomous. Balance and footstep placement are fully autonomous, but guidance and obstacle avoidance are under local teleop,” Shelton said.

Eventually, the robot will be fully autonomous. That will mean we’ll at some point reach a time when a self-driving car can get your package to the outside of your home and Digit can take the package the rest of the way without any humans involved. What that will mean for any Ford vehicles at the time, it’s hard to say.

See also: Ford Self-Driving Cars: Release Date, Test Areas and Price for the Vehicles

Many companies are looking at different ways to get packages to people’s doorsteps, and considering online shopping gets more popular ever year, it’s clear there’s going to be a lot of competition over who can find the best solution. We’re just hoping Digit doesn’t get attacked by any dogs that have grown to loathe the mail carrier.

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