In the not too distant future, the UPS guy delivering a parcel to your home may not be a guy at all. In fact, he may not even be human. Ford, in a research project, explores how robots alongside self-driving vehicles could work in tandem to make deliveries, autonomously.
In a concept video, Ford showcases Digit, a five-foot bipedal robot that’s the centre of a last-mile delivery solution.
In the video, the self-driving delivery van parks at the driveway of the delivery destination. The boot swings open and Digit is seen unfolding itself from the back of the vehicle. It then proceeds to pick up a parcel to deliver it to a customer’s doorstep.
It can react to outside stimuli too, in this case, a kid’s skateboard laying on the walkway. It can also stay upright even after being bumped (which can happen). The skeletal-looking robot can carry packages weighing up to 20kg. It can go up and down stairs, walk naturally through uneven terrain.
Digit is the creation of startup Agility Robotics, which has been developing bipedal robots since 2015. The company is working with Ford to explore the use of the robot as a last-mile delivery solution.
Ford does not have a firm road map for rolling this robot delivery service. It’s also not alone in exploring this intriguing space. Amazon and FedEx are also trialing delivery robots.
In a post on Medium, Ford CTO, Ken Washington wrote, “A ride-hailing trip could double as a delivery service, dropping off packages in between transporting passengers.”
He brought up the interesting point that the vehicle and Digit can have a symbiotic relationship. The vehicle can provide data and power to the robot. Digit can recharge in the car; and with the plethora of sensors in the vehicle (stereo cameras, LIDAR, sensors, etc), a detailed map of the path to the door can be provided to the robot to ensure the package is delivered safely.
In his end note, he said Ford’s primary goal is to “ensure they (robots) are safe, reliable and capable of working alongside people in intelligent ways.”