Dearborn’s Ford Orders Humanoid Robots to Work with People in Commercial Sales

Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn has purchased two of Oregon-based Agility Robots’ Digit, a robot with arms and legs designed to work with humans in commercial sale. Ford plans to explore ways to help commercial vehicle customers and make warehousing and delivery more efficient and affordable.
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Digit
Ford plans to begin experimenting with Digit, a bipedal robot created by Agility Robots that is designed to work with people in commercial sale. // Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn has purchased two of Oregon-based Agility Robots’ Digit, a robot with arms and legs designed to work with humans in commercial sale. Ford plans to explore ways to help commercial vehicle customers and make warehousing and delivery more efficient and affordable.

Key applications for exploration are indoor or first-mile logistics and last-50-feet delivery. The research will also focus on how Ford’s vehicles and Digit talk to each other and their surroundings through connectivity technologies. For example, Ford’s connected vehicles can continuously update cloud-based maps that can be shared with Digit so the robot doesn’t have to recreate the same type of information.

The team expects that the communication channel also will provide delivery-specific information such as where customers prefer that packages be left or other individual needs. Digit can also ask for help if it experiences an unexpected obstacle.

“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,” says Ken Washington, vice president of research and advanced engineering and chief technology officer for Ford. “We learned a lot this year working with Agility. Now we can accelerate our exploratory work with commercial Digit robots.”

The Digit prototype was shown in May and has since been updated to be able to stand on one foot and navigate obstacles. The company also added sensors to further help the robot navigate.

“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,” says Jonathan Hurst, chief technology officer of Agility.

Agility’s first bipedal robot, Cassie, was sold from August 2017 through July 2019. The company has spent the latter half of 2019 transitioning production to Digit.

“Digit represents a major milestone for Agility,” says Damion Shelton, CEO of Agility. “For the first time, a full humanoid robot with both mobility and manipulation capabilities will be available for customer applications in a wide variety of industries, both indoor and outdoor. We look forward to showing off our work on both logistics and non-logistics tasks in the coming months.”

Digit walks upright without wasting energy and has no issue in environments people populate. If it encounters an unexpected obstacle, it can send an image back to its transport vehicle to leverage additional computing power. The vehicle can also send the information into the cloud and request help from other systems. Digit is also lightweight, enabling a long run time, and folds up tightly to be stored in the back of vehicles.

Agility was founded in 2015 and develops robots for markets such as last-mile logistics, telepresence, automated inspection, entertainment, and academic research.

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