Ford employs humanoid robots

Agility Robotics is launching Digit, a robot with arms and legs that will work with humans, for commercial sale. Ford Motor Company has become the first customer, receiving the first two robots off the line 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.

“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 Ken Washington, vice president, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, and chief technology officer. “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 2019, 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.

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