Ford's Vision for Autonomous Delivery

Picture this. You’ve ordered a parcel and you get a notification that it has arrived. When you open the door there is a robot standing outside with your brand-new headphones in its hands. This is the future that Ford is striving to create through their research project Digit.

The robot is a creation of Agility Robotics in Partnership with automotive giant Ford. Together, they imagine a revolution in driverless delivery where a driverless Ford vehicle would travel to the desired location, and when parked, out hops a lovable little robot with the parcel in hand- Digit. Digit proceeds to travel to your doorstep and where it leaves the parcel, at which point the process repeats. No humans required.

The design itself stands at just over 5 feet tall and primed with nimble limbs and a torso packed with sensing equipment, it is more than capable of navigating complex terrain such as climbing stairs or walking up slopes.


The carmaker isn’t the only firm with such a vision for the future. Automating last-mile logistics is a task Amazon have also been trialling for quite some now, with the e-commerce giants opting to use drones instead. However, Ford makes a convincing case for the combination of robots and self-driving cars. A traditional stand-alone robot or even a drone for that matter needs two things: data and power. A car provides them with both. The robot can operate for longer hours as is capable of being continually charged in the back of the vehicle. Additionally, by providing the vehicle itself with sensing capabilities, the car can learn about its surroundings, and feed data to the robot about the optimal route for delivery, all whilst the car is still moving.  

However, it’s not all sunshine and roses as this technology clearly isn’t perfect, otherwise, it would be everywhere already. Though primed with hi-tech equipment, bi-pedal machines remain less stable than humans and are yet to fully develop the level of dexterity required for us to see full-scale implementation. The unreliability this can lead to is a huge hurdle in the industry, as the potential for dropping or damaging a product is a risk not many sellers would be willing to take. Additionally, how would these robots behave when presented with unprecedented stimuli e.g. a strong gust of wind, a guard dog? With the autonomous nature of these machines, if something were to go wrong, how would the issue be resolved? Possibly the greatest reason for scepticism is whether our society is ready to embrace such a change. A change where we see robots walking up and down streets alongside us.

At the present moment, there is definitely much progress to be made in the realm of AI robotics, but the baby steps that are being made seem promising.

Thumbnail Credit: Tim LaBarge

Video Credit: Tech Insider