Robots Delivering Freight

Ford Motor Company has partnered with Agility Robotics in the USA to explore a possible future where autonomous vehicles transport delivery robots around city and urban locations.

Ford has partnered with Agility Robotics to explore a possible future where autonomous vehicles transport delivery robots around city and urban locations (Credit: Ford)

Ford is trying out a parcel-delivering robot called Digit that can be transported to a given address in an autonomous (self-driving) van, get itself out of the back, pick up the package and walk up to the point of delivery. Digit bot can lift packages of up to 18 kg in weight, walk over uneven terrain and navigate obstacles, can travel up and down stairs and even stay upright if someone or something bumps into it. Its arms and legs fold up tight to the torso for storage in the back of an autonomous ride. When a destination is reached, the back door is opened, Digit unfolds itself, grabs a package and ambles up to the front door to drop it off.

Though the biped robot is equipped with LiDAR and some stereo cameras to help it navigate from the car to the door, it makes use of the mapping information gathered by the autonomous vehicle, from cameras and sensors mounted on the vehicle, which is sent wirelessly to Digit before it sets off on its delivery job. If it encounters an unexpected obstacle, it will send an SOS to the vehicle so that a navigation solution can be found. If the car struggles to find a way through, it could itself send a help request to support systems in the cloud.

Ford says that Digit is made from lightweight materials, though no details are given, and that an autonomous delivery service can look forward to all day operation before the robot runs out of power. Agility Robotics intends to bring its Digit bot to market in early 2020.


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