Digit will perform last 50 feet stage of deliveries, in conjunction with last mile autonomous vehicles

Digit will perform 'last 50 feet' stage of deliveries, in conjunction with 'last mile' autonomous vehicles

Agility Robotics has launched Digit, a robot with arms and legs to work with humans and in human spaces, for commercial sale and Ford was the first customer, receiving the first two off the line.

This cooperation continues the existing partnership between Agility and Ford to explore ways to help commercial vehicle customers, including autonomous vehicle businesses, make warehousing and delivery more efficient and affordable for their customers.

Key applications for further exploration are indoor or first mile logistics and last 50 feet delivery. The research also will focus on how Ford's commercial vehicles and Digit 'talk' to each other and their surroundings through connectivity technology.

Ford's connected vehicles can continually update cloud maps which can be shared with Digit so it doesn't have to recreate the same type of information.

Digit will be part of a package delivery service and this communication channel will also provide delivery specific information such as where a customer prefers packages to be left, or other individual package delivery needs. This communication channel also allows Digit to ask for help if something unexpected is encountered.

"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 Ford CTO Ken Washington.

"We learned a lot working with Agility [in 2019], now we can accelerate our exploratory work with commercial Digit robots."

Since the first Digit prototype was shown last May, Agility has tested it extensively, refined the design, and added features for production and sale to customers. Upgrades and improvements include more advanced feet that allow the robot to balance on one foot or carefully navigate obstacles, new sensors to perceive and map the world for robot navigation, and powerful onboard computer hardware.

"We're excited about the technical capabilities and advanced legged mobility of Digit," said Agility CTO Jonathan Hurst.

"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."

Agility sold its Cassie robot as a bipedal research platform from August 2017 until July 2019 and spent the second half of 2019 transitioning production to Digit.

"Digit represents a major milestone," said CEO Damion Shelton.

"For the first time, a full humanoid robot - with both mobility and manipulation capabilities - is available for customer applications in a wide variety of industries, both indoor and outdoor."

Digit has been designed to walk upright without wasting energy and its claimed unique design also allows it to tightly fold itself up for easy storage in the back of a vehicle until needed. Once a vehicle 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. If it encounters an unexpected obstacle, it can send an image back to the vehicle to call on additional computing power.

The vehicle could send that information to the cloud and request help from other systems to enable the robot to navigate, providing multiple levels of assistance that help keep the robot light and nimble. The light weight also helps ensure the robot has a long run time, which is essential for delivery businesses that operate continuously through the business day.

Two pre-production Digit prototypes are on display on the Ford stand at CES 2020 in Las Vegas.