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Ford Wants to Put a Droid in Their Autonomous Cars

It wouldn’t be holding the steering wheel though. Ford has plans for robo-taxis doing double-duty through the deliverance of both passengers and goods and now explores using a humanoid robot for solving the last meter autonomous delivery problem [1].

The carmaker is pairing up with startup Agility Robotics in a research project combining autonomous vehicles and robots [1]. A video shows the robot, called Digit, unfolding its two arms and legs from the trunk of a vehicle when the destination is reached and then carrying a box to the recipient’s doorstep. The robot would charge while folded up in the vehicle. It would also be instructed by the autonomous vehicle on how to get to the doorstep rather than having its own full autonomy sensor-suite, thus reducing the bulk and cost of the robot itself [1,2].

The research project addresses what is sometimes called “the last 50-foot problem” rather than the last meter problem [2]: getting the package from an autonomous delivery vehicle to the recipient's door. There are several variants of small wheeled vehicles suggested and trialled (as well as multicopter drones, not mentioned in these articles). The argument for legged and particularly humanoid, two-legged, robots is that our nearest environment is usually designed for legs and the human form rather than wheels. Continental and ANYbotics recently showed a similar last meter concept involving dog-like robots with four legs.

Ford has previously said it is planning to launch an autonomous taxi and delivery service by 2021, with vehicles “dropping off packages in between transporting passengers”. According to one representative, they now aim to have some kind of last-meter robot ready as a potential part of the package by the same time [2].


Personal comments

It is nice to see two separate areas of research like robotics and autonomous vehicles meet, and I was intrigued by the symbiotic sharing of autonomy sensors. But I can’t help wondering how the car would be able to guide the robot if it has to go inside buildings. Anyway, it’s a good start towards solving the last meters delivery challenge.


Written by Joakim Nyman, RISE Viktoria.



1. 2019-05-22. Ford’s vision for package delivery is a robot that folds up into the back of a self-driving car

1. 2019-05-22. Ford tests package-carrying robots for driverless delivery