Ford Is Testing A Two-Legged Robot For Curb-To-Door Delivery

Arnav Dhar - Jun 06, 2019

Ford Is Testing A Two-Legged Robot For Curb-To-Door Delivery

Ford and American startup Agility Robotics are working together on a two-legged robot to solve the final 50-foot problem of future delivery technology.

In the future, the streets might be flooded with autonomous vehicles trying to deliver the goods to customers on time, but even if it is true, it still can't solve the so-called 50-feet problem, described by Ken Washington, CTO of Ford Motor.

Ford along with Albany-based startup Agility Robotics are collaborating to test how 2-legged robots and autonomous vehicles can co-op to deal with said problem. Agility has a robot called Digit, which features a LIDAR instead of its head. This robot is made to lift things as heavy as 18 kilograms and can drive around in autonomous vehicles before being deployed to deliver for "the last 50 feet".

Ken Washington said in an interview:


You can see in this GIF how Digit and Ford's vehicles will be able to work together. When the car's backdoor is opened on arrival, the robot is deployed and ready to deliver the goods right to the customer's hand at the door.

Agility Gif 1
Digit stepping out of Ford's AV to deliver goods.

For basic navigation, the robot uses stereo cameras and LIDAR.

The vehicle has a powerful computing ability and suite of sensors for more complicated works, like sharing data with Digit before delivery. This helps the robot knows exactly where it is when it "wakes up." If the robot has trouble, it can also alert the vehicle to find out a solution.

This idea helps solve Agility Robotics CEO's problem, reduce time lost and boost effectiveness for the delivery.

Though Digit is not Ford's only solution for the final 50-foot problem, it certainly has advantages. As pointed out by Washington, this robot can easily go pass street obstacle and climb stairs, which is really hard for robots with wheels.

Agility Gif 2
The partnership is hoped to solve the final 50-foot problem.

The collaboration between Agility Robotics and Ford is as of now considered a research program. Though Ford hasn't acquired an equity stake in Agility yet, the project is promising, according to Washington.

For Albany-based startup, the collaboration is considered a decisive chance for its young business. Started off as a spin-off of OSU in 2015 and tasked with commercializing Dynamic Robotics Laboratory's research, its 2 legged-robot Cassie in 2017 is succeeded by Digit with more capabilities and limbs 3 months ago.

About half of Agility's 20-person staff is now working on the project. The company's first venture round earned nearly $9 million, and with the newest collaboration with Ford, it's aiming for more in the next round.

For now, Agility is having 2 first-generation Digit robots. While the second version is about to be uncovered early in this summer, its 3rd a.k.a the final version of the 2-legged robot will be released during this summer or fall, according to CEO Damion Shelton.

6 of the ultimate versions of the robot will be produced at first, and for 50-100 robots as of 2021, the CEO estimated that Agility will need to produce 2 Digit robots per month.

6 of the ultimate versions of the robot will be produced at first.

With these types of research and project, Ford is hoping that it can overcome the 50-foot problem, a major issue for the company's robotaxi plan. In order to make the business profitable, the American automaker is doing 2 things at the same time: testing how the autonomous vehicles will work in real life while investing in developing its own AV technology with its dedicated subsidiary Argo AI.

Argo AI is a company located in Pittsburgh and received an investment of about $1 billion from Ford 2 years ago. It is tasked with developing virtual driver systems and HD maps for Ford's autonomous vehicles. For the endeavor to enter the market, the automaker is also working with many local businesses on pilot programs, while partnering with larger companies like retailer Walmart or food deliverer Postmates.

A whopping $4 billion including $1 billion in Argo AI is invested for 4 years ahead to build a solid AV business. The company is reportedly testing in many locations spreading in the United States for future plans.


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