Ford purchases bipedal robots for last-mile logistics research

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US automotive manufacturer Ford has been announced as the first customer of Agility Robotics’ Digit, a collaborative robot with arms and legs.

The Blue Oval will receive the first two cobots off the production line and use the technology to explore how Digit can help Ford’s commercial vehicle customers make warehousing and delivery more efficient and affordable.

Key applications for further exploration are indoor or first-mile logistics and last-50ft (15m) delivery.

Research will also focus on how Ford’s commercial vehicles and Digit communicate with each other and their surroundings through advanced connectivity technologies.

Agility Robotics is launching Digit, a robot with arms and legs to work with humans and in human spaces, for commercial sale

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.

Ken Washington, VP of Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, and CTO, said: “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.

“We learned a lot this year working with Agility, now we can accelerate our exploratory work with commercial Digit robots.”

Since the first Digit prototype was shown in May, Agility Robotics says it has tested it extensively, refined the design, and added features to be ready for production and sale to customers.

Ford is the first customer, receiving the first two cobots off the line

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.

Dr Jonathan Hurst, CTO of Agility, said: “We’re excited about the technical capabilities and advanced legged mobility of Digit.

“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.”

Key applications for further exploration are indoor or first-mile logistics and last-50ft (15m) delivery

Agility sold its previous robot Cassie as a bipedal research platform from August 2017 through July 2019, and spent the latter half of 2019 transitioning production over to Digit.

“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.”

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