Self-driving cars are being hailed as a boon for package deliveries, since they can shuffle about all day without breaks as Americans buy more and more stuff. But those cars don’t have giant crane arms that drop the packages on your actual property (don’t steal that idea, please, it’s mine). That’s where Ford believes Digit can play a role.
Digit is the creation of Agility Robotics, and the company is working with Ford to investigate the use of this robot as a last-mile delivery solution. This way, the process of bringing a box to your door could be a truly human-free experience from start to finish — just the way we misanthropes like it.
Digit can carry packages weighing up to 40 pounds. The idea is that, after an autonomous vehicle parks on the destination’s driveway, this robot unfolds and leaves the car’s cargo area, carrying the box to the front stoop and sliding back into the AV before setting off to the next destination. No muss, no fuss. Digit can react to outside stimuli, staying upright even after being bumped. This is good, because there’s always one teenager on every block who’s been waiting for the opportunity to try and knock over a robot.
While AV parcel delivery is still impressive in itself, it presents some issues that Digit hopes to solve. For example, leaving the house and walking down the driveway to grab something out of a self-driving delivery van might be a difficult task for the elderly or disabled.
Digit and his rolling house aren’t completely disconnected from one another. In its Medium post about the partnership, Ford brought up the interesting point that the AV itself can help Digit accomplish its task. Through cameras, lidar and other sensors, the self-driving vehicle can create a local map of the path to the door, marking trouble spots like stairs or uneven cement, giving Digit a better idea of how to get that package delivered safely.
Don’t expect anything to come of it in the next couple years, but if anything, this shows that Ford is willing to think outside the box (or, in this case, the van) to really flesh out its potential AV services.