By on May 22, 2019

This outlet has frequently made light of Ford’s more imaginative mobility projects, but they’ve spanned the gamut in terms of functionality. While dressing up college students to resemble a car seat in order to test the public’s perception of autonomous vehicles was certainly funny, it also provided some meaningful R&D insight. Meanwhile, Carr-E and the automaker’s lane-keeping bed were little more than comic distractions, outperforming many of today’s hottest stand-up entertainers in terms of laughs per minute.

However, Ford’s latest project deserves to be taken more seriously. It’s both far more useful than what we’ve grown accustomed to and holds far broader implications for society.

“Meet Digit,” the automaker announced, “A smart little robot that could change the way self-driving cars make deliveries.”

Digit is a a two-legged, lidar-equipped robot designed and built by Agility Robotics. It’s capable of carrying 40-pound packages anywhere a person could, before folding itself up for easy storage in the back of a van. Ford thinks the creation might pair well with its own autonomous aims, as the robot can be seen making its way out of an autonomous Transit Connect to drop off a box in the company’s promotional video.

 

“A self-driving vehicle is capable of creating a detailed map of the surrounding environment, so why not share that data with Digit instead of having it recreate the same type of information? After all, both Digit and the self-driving car need to know where they are in the world, where they need to go and how to get there,” explained Ford’s chief technology officer Ken Washington. “When a self-driving vehicle brings Digit to its final destination, the vehicle can wirelessly deliver all the information it needs, including the best pathway to the front door. Through this data exchange, Digit can work collaboratively with a vehicle to situate itself and begin making its delivery.”

The automaker says exploring this facet of mobility could help society cope with the sudden rise in deliveries that are “taking a toll on our cities and neighborhoods” as a result of mail-order internet services. Yet it never got around to explaining how with any thoroughness.

Presumably, going autonomous with parcels will save customers money, though we’re not sure how that will matter after 1.5 million delivery drivers suddenly find themselves unemployed and unable buy anything. Of course, buying things is what got us into this predicament in the first place.

Then again, factory automation isn’t quite as omnipresent as we were led to believe. Perhaps there will be room in the van for a living and breathing maintenance person.

This could be another distraction, something flashy for Ford to show off that proves it’s on the cutting edge, but we don’t think so. The Blue Oval has already teamed up with Postmates to expand on-demand delivery services utilizing its self-driving vehicles. There’s also too much real money tied up in autonomous vehicles to think any automaker wouldn’t seriously consider exploring these kinds of advanced technologies.

[Images: Ford Motor Co.]

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48 Comments on “Ford Is ‘Exploring’ Robots…...”


  • avatar
    SPPPP

    Imagine the process in reverse. Taking porch piracy to a whole new level.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Imagine how profitable Ford could be if they explored getting into producing interesting vehicles that were tested before reaching consumers.
    No secret here why Fords lineup is lacking excitement, their money is spent on “research”. I can only imagine the group of dumbarses that come up with all these pet projects. I hope this is the 10% of Fords staff getting the axe.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Why isn’t Ford diversifying?
      Why is Ford diversifying?

      Why doesn’t Ford innovate?
      Why is Ford innovating?

      Can’t win.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Imagine how profitable Ford could be if they explored getting into producing interesting vehicles”

      I’ll tell you- not at all. “Interesting” vehicles appeal to enthusiasts, and enthusiasts are not worth catering to. They are a bunch of picky, particular little snowflakes who demand car companies make vehicles to their exact liking, complain about everything that doesn’t, and when a car company does stick its neck out and produce something geared towards them, these “enthusiasts” kick at the ground, find *something* wrong with it (“wrong color,” “100 lbs too heavy,” etc.) and then go off and brag about how they never buy anything newer than 5 years old because depreciation is for suckers.

      “Enthusiasts” demanded cars like the FR-S/BRZ. And we see how those two flopped.

      “I hope this is the 10% of Fords staff getting the axe.”

      you’re a POS.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “I’ll tell you- not at all. “Interesting” vehicles appeal to enthusiasts, and enthusiasts are not worth catering to.”

        So why is the Mustang living on in NA while the other more mainstream cars won’t live past 2020?

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        I’m not the least bit picky as an enthusiast, produce RWD vehicles with V8s that are interesting and affordable. I’ve shown numerous time that I will buy interesting products given the option.

        How am I a POS for wanting Ford to trim the useless people if they’ve already announced they’re cutting 10% to begin with. I can’t think of a more useless group of people collecting paychecks from Ford than this team.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “I can’t think of a more useless group of people collecting paychecks from Ford than this team.”

          The rot is at the top. The low and mid-level people tossed into the mobility & delivery robot division aren’t the ones deserving unemployment.

      • 0 avatar
        MoDo

        Lots of enthusiasts buy cars but you did a great job of pointing out the vocal dreamers that litter the internet. Those guys beg for cars that they have no way of affording, ever, hence excuse after excuse once something gets built or the one I love, why their old model is “better” than the new one, which is almost never true these days.

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      Hummer that’s crazy talk. Expecting a automobile company to produce automobiles people actually want?

      I say you’ve lost your mind sir!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This company is out of its collective mind.

    First things first, how about fixing the horrible dual clutch transmission that is a massive failure and embarrassment, and the bane of Ford drivers worldwide?

    As for the robot, I don’t remember Honda’s Asimo going anywhere. Ford’s efforts on this are a waste of time.

    • 0 avatar

      “As for the robot, I don’t remember Honda’s Asimo going anywhere”

      And what that statement means exactly? Honda is not known to be on the cutting edge of robotics so nobody really cares what Asimo does.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “This company is out of its collective mind.”

      yes, because a small research project off in one corner of an advanced research arm is an indication of the company’s entire direction.

      you people are incredible. it’s amazing how eager people are to show off how little they know by being unbelievably strident about it.

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        Ok lets talk about the garbage train station they bought for 250 million and will invest many hundreds of more millions to refurb.

        People like you are incredible. Defending wreckless spending like this left and right all while the very same company is laying off thousands of people.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    Any UPS driver would have been able to hurl that box to the door from the sidewalk, saving countless steps while getting in many more deliveries per day. So unless Digit can accurately fling that box from the Transit while it does a drive-by at no less than 20 mph, I don’t see the advantage.

    • 0 avatar
      EGSE

      Having experienced how a human “flings” packages I’ll give the non-hurling robot a chance. UPS left a several hundred dollar item in the snow at the head of my 600 foot lane; it was found weeks later after the snow melted (and after a replacement was shipped). A computer monitor was dumped in a driveway 3 miles distant…..in a pouring rain. And a robotic delivery agent doesn’t have to equal the throughput of a human, it just has to beat the *cost-per-delivery* of a human.

      What’s not said in the article is how much money Ford has spent on this. I agree that Ford seriously needs to focus on improving its core products. But all we’ve seen here are a few words, a van that’s probably a company mule that’s already accounted for and a Youtube video highlighting someone else’s IP and development cost. I put this in the same category as Boeing running promotional clips about the company.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      My UPS driver takes the time to get to know all his customers and their preferences. He calls you by name and opens the door for you. He places your package differently, depending on what the weather looks like.

      I suppose a robot could do these things, but they won’t.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    You mean robots other than the buyers of their newly limited CUV and SUV product line?

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    How this frivolous R&D money is justified in Ford’s budget absolutely boggles my mind.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I dunno, how ’bout you first tell us how much they spent on it? Especially since *Ford didn’t actually build the damn robot.* here, right in TFA:

      “Digit is a a two-legged, lidar-equipped robot designed and built by Agility Robotics.”

  • avatar

    I think drones are much more effective in delivering packages. Right into your backyard.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Very light packages and make sure they don’t cross my property or fly high enough for me to loose my reasonable expectation of privacy.

      • 0 avatar

        Big Brother is already watching you. Everyday. Eyes are everywhere. Google, Samsung, Facebook, Amazon, just name it.

        In the past Big Brother had only ears – your neighbors, coworkers, friends reported you in regular basis to KGB. Now it is much easier and it is in HD stereo.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Announcing 10000 new layoffs and whimsical robot crap in the same week is a bad look.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      what “10,000 new layoffs?”

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Sorry, 7000.
        Anyway I’m sure the people being told they are losing their jobs on Tuesday are cool with the robot.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          I’m sure your concern for them extends past the ability to drop a couple of snarky comments on the internet.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            If you know of a way for me to help them out I’m all ears.

            Otherwise criticising Ford for tone-deaf messaging is all I’ve got.

          • 0 avatar

            Do not worry. I am sure they will get generous severance packages. What you will get when laid off? In my case it is couple of months of salary after taxes and several months of health insurance. You are supposed to find job in couple of months.

          • 0 avatar

            “Otherwise criticising Ford for tone-deaf messaging is all I’ve got.”

            Get real. Ford is a commercial outfit. It is not a welfare organization. If they can they will replace workers with robots. And they already do. Requirements for engineering skills also change. If you are not developing as many ICEs as before you need less ICE engineers. And you need more electrical and SW engineers, AI and ML experts and so on. And if you paid attention they reduce bureaucracy and management – flatten the organization. Do you need 32 layers of management above you? In Valley it is around 5-6 levels.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “Otherwise criticising Ford for tone-deaf messaging is all I’ve got.”

            Those who can, do. Those who cannot, criticize.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “What you will get when laid off?”

            I’m self-employed.

            “Those who can, do. Those who cannot, criticize.”

            You got me there. I definitely don’t have it in me to layoff 7000 people.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    So, while laying off thousands of people because they cannot manage their business, Ford detail how they are wasting resources on “designing” robots?

    Hackett needed to have been fire a long time ago. He is a joke. A company that cannot design a door handle or a transmission capable of handling 150hp is coming with crap like this…or buying a garbage train station that is going to take hundreds of millions to turn into something useful.

    Ford is a lost cause.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      There’s no money in cars in America anymore. Nor in manufacturing in general. Instead, the money is in selling paper to Fed Welfare Queens. To sell them paper, you need to make room in the marketing budget for hype. Hype employing the words currently fashionable among the semi-literati. Since Fed Welfare Queens are, to a Goldmanite, naive and not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed. Not much different than other welfare queens in that regard.

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    “Ford is a lost cause.”. Huh? The seller of the #1 vehicle in the worlds #1 market fo 30+ years with no end in sight is a lost cause. Wow, that is a statement.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I don’t really care what Ford does, if they don’t make a vehicle that I am interested in then I don’t really care. There are plenty of competent auto manufacturers that make as good a vehicles or better. I will say the same thing about GM as well. Both have bad management.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The Cylons were created by man. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Yes and in their rebellion they will start throwing your packages and breaking the contents. The rise of the robots.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Ford attempts to promote its capacity for innovation by showcasing a robot which it did not build. Ford’s contribution: Its autonomous vehicle chose the path the robot would take to get to the front door – and it sends the robot across the grass? “You had one job…”

    Ford’s autonomous vehicle needs to pull further into the driveway, because the robot load/unload process is blocking the sidewalk – twice.

    And it’s inexcusable that no one in the pictured scenario has contacted emergency services to assist the rider (out of frame) of that scooter who has clearly been knocked unconscious by an errant delivery drone.

    “Keep your robot off my lawn!”


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