Ford Motor Company is buying the first two walking robots produced by Agility Robotics. These robots, named Digit, have arms and legs like humans and are designed and programmed to work with humans and in human spaces. This purchase is part of an existing partnership between Agility and to explore ways to help commercial vehicle customers, including autonomous vehicle businesses, make warehousing and delivery more efficient and affordable.
The main applications of Digit robots are indoor or first-mile logistics and last-50-feet delivery. The two companies will also research on how Ford’s commercial vehicles and Digit “talk” to each other and their surroundings through advanced connectivity technologies. Digit will be part of a package delivery service and this communication channel will feed delivery specific information to the robot such as where a customer prefers packages to be left. This communication channel also allows Digit to ask for help if it encounters something unforeseen. “As online retailing continues growing, we believe robots will help our commercial customers build stronger businesses by making deliveries more efficient and affordable for all of us.” said Ken Washington, vice president, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, and Chief Technology Officer. “We learned a lot this year working with Agility, now we can accelerate our exploratory work with commercial Digit robots,”
The Digit robot was first shown as a prototype in May, 2019, and has been refined since. The upgrades to the production version include more advanced feet that allow Digit to balance on one foot or carefully navigate obstacles, new sensors to perceive and map the world for robot navigation, and customer-ready, powerful onboard computer hardware. “We’re excited about the technical capabilities and advanced legged mobility of Digit”, said Dr. Jonathan Hurst, CTO of Agility. “Videos can show a solid proof of concept - but this robot is ready to go out in the world in the hands of customers, and start to really explore pragmatic use cases.”
Digit has been designed to walk upright like humans with minimal energy use. It can tightly fold itself up in the back of a vehicle until it’s called into action and once its arrives at its destination, grab a package from the vehicle and ‘walk’ to the recipient’s address. If it encounters any obstacle, Digit will send an image back to the vehicle, which will send that information into the cloud and request help from other systems to enable Digit to navigate.
“Digit represents a major milestone for Agility,” said Dr. Damion Shelton, CEO of Agility. “For the first time, a full humanoid robot - with both mobility and manipulation capabilities - will be available for customer applications in a wide variety of industries, both indoor and outdoor. We look forward to showing off our work on both logistics and non-logistics tasks in the coming months.”