Ford, best known for its cars, pick-up trucks and SUVs, is experimenting with something totally different: a package-carrying robot.
The automaker announced Tuesday it’s testing a robot to carry deliveries from its self-driving cars to customers’ doorsteps.
Ford is already piloting deliveries with self-driving cars inspired by the popularity of online shopping.
But the company found it was sometimes inconvenient for people to walk outside their homes and take a package from a self-driving car waiting at the curb. So it partnered with Agility Robotics, an Albany, Oregon-based startup that makes a human-like robot capable of carrying 40-pound packages.
Ford said the robot, called Digit, can climb steps, walk on uneven terrain or stay balanced even if it’s bumped. In a video, Ford showed Digit navigating around an e-scooter blocking its path on a sidewalk.
Ford declined to say if it plans to run a delivery service or if it expects to make deliveries for partners. Previously, it worked with Domino’s to test pizza deliveries in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Customers had to walk to the vehicle and enter a code on a touchpad before a back-seat window would open to reveal the pizza.
Ford made the announcement two days after it said it would lay off 10% of it salaried staff as part of a cost-cutting effort. Automakers such as Ford and GM have announced job cuts as they struggle to adapt to the changing economy, which is increasingly focused on AI-powered technologies including self-driving vehicles.
Ford plans to focus more on electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles. But it faces intense competition from companies such as Google’s parent company Alphabet and Tesla.
Autonomous vehicles are expected to revolutionize logistics and transportation and threaten millions of driving jobs. But some experts say driving jobs focused on delivery will remain safe. While cars and trucks may drive themselves, they can’t walk up steps and place a package on a doorstep. But that’s where Digit could change things. Ford showed in a video how Digit could fold itself up in the back of vehicle, get out, and carry a package to a front door.
If Digit gets confused while carrying a package, it will communicate with Ford’s vehicles for guidance. Ford declined to say if or when it will launch a commercial delivery program with Digit.