Working further on automating last mile deliveries Agility and Ford Motor Company are developing a last-mile delivery solution that takes care of the void which arises when the autonomous car makes the home delivery but the person who placed the order is either not at home or is invalid and therefore cannot pick up the package themselves physically.
This is where the solution by Ford’s autonomous vehicles and Agility’s Digit bipedal robot comes in the form of a bipedal robot by the name Digit. This system is in the early stages of development, but an autonomous delivery test program is scheduled to begin in early 2020. Digit, which can fold up tightly, rides in the back of Ford’s autonomous vehicles. Using a patent-pending lift designed by Agility, Digit can get itself in and out of the vehicle. The lift mechanism latches onto the same place you would have third row seats and goes under Digit’s “armpits” to lift the robot in and out of the vehicle. Digit, which can carry boxes up to 40 lb. (18 kg), picks up the package, walks up the front steps, drops off the package and returns to the autonomous vehicle.
As our final behind the scenes for today, a wide shot of the stair climb. 100% all natural robot – tether and CG free. pic.twitter.com/qYgLuNlAVO
— Agility Robotics (@agilityrobotics) May 23, 2019
Agility CEO Damion Shelton told The Robot Report that the first time the entire system was up and running was just two weeks ago.
A video demonstrating the level of autonomy involved shows how a local tele-operation was used for triggering behaviors for Digit at appropriate times — such as when to pick up the box and when to climb the stairs. But the actual picking up of the box and climbing of the stairs were performed autonomously and run locally on Digit.
The only thing “fake” part of the video is the dotted lines that indicate an obstacle in Digit’s path. Shelton added Digit did not fall once during the 12 hours of shooting the video.
Digit is meant to be lightweight and straightforward, but it does have the ability to tap into the resources of another robot with advanced sensors and heavy computing hardware as and when required. Digit has the capability to navigate basic scenarios with LiDAR and a few stereo cameras. Its lightweight design also means battery power lasts longer, something essential for autonomous delivery services.
Shelton said upgraded versions of Digit being developed will help enable full autonomy. The second-generation Digit is coming in mid-2019 and the third generation in the fall. “The sensors on the robot in the video – LiDAR and Intel RealSense – are functional but aren’t used for planning. We’ve been testing version two of Digit with this sensor stack and plan to use it for full autonomy.”
It’s not clear exactly when or how Digit might become a commercial part of Ford’s robotaxi plans, but Agility said in its February press release that deliveries will begin in the first quarter of 2020.
Shelton also told TechCrunch that the company will produce six of this current version of Digit, and then estimates they will scale up to producing two per month with a goal of making somewhere between 50 and 100 Digits by 2021.
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