In the near future, delivery truck drivers may be replaced by autonomous vehicles or drones that can take a package right to your door. Ford is looking to this future with a parcel-delivering robot called Digit that can be transported to a customer's address in a self-driving car or van, get itself out of the back, pick up the package and walk up the garden path to the front door.
People are already being moved around city and urban locations in self-driving vehicles, and this sort of thing looks set to become an everyday feature in future transport models. Ford is now looking at putting such vehicles to good use when they don't have passengers to take from A to B.
The automotive giant has teamed up with Agility Robotics to explore using a bi-pedal robot to deliver packages from roadside to door. Agility's Digit bot can lift packages of up to 40 lb (18 kg) in weight, walk over uneven terrain and navigate obstacles, can travel up and down stairs and even stay upright if someone or something bumps into it.
Digit's arms and legs fold up tight to the torso for storage in the back of an autonomous ride. The idea is that when a self-driving pod or taxi finds itself without passengers, it can serve as a delivery vehicle. When a destination is reached, the back door is opened, Digit unfolds itself, grabs a package and ambles up to the front door to drop it off.
Though the robot is equipped with LiDAR and some stereo cameras to help it navigate from the car to the door, it makes use of the mapping information gathered by the autonomous vehicle, from cameras and sensors mounted on the vehicle, which is sent wirelessly to Digit before it sets off on its delivery job.
If Digit encounters an unexpected obstacle, it will send an SOS to the vehicle so that a navigation solution can be found. If the car struggles to find a way through, it could itself send a help request to support systems in the cloud.
Ford says that Digit is made from lightweight materials, though no details are given, and that an autonomous delivery service can look forward to all day operation before the robot runs out of juice.
This use case scenario is just a possible future use for Digit of course, and Ford has not indicated that such a service would enter operation. Agility Robotics does intend to bring its Digit robot to market though, in early Q1 2020. You can see Digit in action in the video below.
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