Plenty of companies are bringing robot-powered delivery of food and other household goods to the last mile, but most stop at the last few feet. Autonomous cars park at a curb and little rover bots typically can’t climb the front steps of a house.
Which is why Ford is working on a bi-pedal robot that literally walks deliveries from driverless cars right up to your front door(h/t to Bloomberg). Dr. Ken Washington, Vice President, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, and Chief Technology Officer published a post on Medium today outlining the program, writing:
Enter Digit, a two-legged robot designed and built by Agility Robotics to not only approximate the look of a human, but to walk like one, too. Built out of lightweight material and capable of lifting packages that weigh up to 40 pounds, Digit can go up and down stairs, walk naturally through uneven terrain, and even react to things like being bumped without losing its balance and falling over.
Like something straight out of an Asimov novel, Digit folds up and sits in the back of a driverless delivery van. When a package needs to be delivered, it emerges from the vehicle, stands up and carries the package to a person’s doorstop. Digit doesn’t have a ton of autonomy gear and processing power on it. Instead, the driverless car, which is packed with sensors and mapping equipment, sees the surrounding area and sends Digit the best path to the door. If Digit needs help, or encounters something unexpected, the problem can be sent up to the cloud where another system (perhaps even a human) can assist.
Though the Ford post didn’t mention groceries specifically, they are a good use case for this type of robot delivery. Groceries are heavy, and even if a driverless car brings them to a house, a person still needs to go out to the street to retrieve and lug them back inside. The weight of groceries is one of the reasons self-driving delivery company, AutoX moved more into (the much lighter) restaurant food. For most, this walking to the curb is a minor inconvenience, but for those who have trouble moving, a robot walking packages to the door would be a big help.
Ford isn’t alone in getting goods up directly to your front door. Earlier this year, FedEx unveiled a its own delivery robot that can climb stairs (though it uses wheels, not legs), and Amazon received a patent for an autonomous robot that would live in a home’s garage and would venture out to fetch packages from delivery trucks.
There’s no word on when or if this particular version of Ford’s delivery vision will be coming to a neighborhood near you, there are still a lot of regulatory hurdles for self-driving vehicles to get through. But with the pace of innovation, robots are bound to be bounding up your walkway to deliver a package someday soon.