Ford Is 'Exploring' Robots…

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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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.

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2 of 48 comments
  • Jeff S Jeff S on May 23, 2019

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

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on May 27, 2019

    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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