Robots to Work with Humans at Ford
Ford employees may soon be joined in the workplace by Digit, robots with arms and legs.
Agility Robotics is launching Digit, a robot with arms and legs, to work with humans and in human spaces, for commercial sale; and, Ford Motor Company is the first customer, receiving the first two robots 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 advanced connectivity technologies.
For example, Ford’s connected vehicles can continually update cloud-based maps that can be shared with Digit so it doesn’t have to recreate the same type of information.
The team expects that, as Digit will be part of a package delivery service, 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.
Since the first Digit prototype was shown in May, Agility Robotics has tested it extensively, refined the design, and added features to be ready for production and sale to customers.
Upgrades and improvements 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.
Digit has been designed to walk upright without wasting energy, so it has no issue traversing the same types of environments most people do every day.
Digit’s unique design also allows it to tightly fold itself up for easy storage in the back of a vehicle until it’s called into action. 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 leverage additional computing power.
The vehicle could even send that information into the cloud and request help from other systems to enable Digit to navigate, providing multiple levels of assistance that help keep the robot light and nimble.
Digit’s light weight also helps ensure it has a long run time, which is essential for delivery businesses that operate continuously through the business day.