From an order online to home delivery, the last step could be taken care of by a Ford robot. The U.S. automaker recently released a video about the innovative automated delivery system, Digit. This is a robot that arrives in a self-driving car, gets out and rings the doorbell. All on two feet. Or rather, metal legs. The first real trials will start in 2020, but the project that Ford is carrying out in collaboration with Agility Robotics could be the future of commerce and shipping.
It’s an industry that is constantly growing with the spread of purchases on digital channels: in 2018, for example, the US Postal Service delivered about 6 billion packages in the United States, about twice as many as 10 years ago. That's why giants like Amazon and FedEx, as well as the likes of Domino's Pizza and brands like PepsiCo, have invested heavily in autonomous drones. Some of them fly, others run on four or six wheels, while Digit walks. A few steps, just enough to take care of that fateful “last mile”: the goal of the project is to find the final solution to enable a delivery system from the vehicle to the doorstep”, Ken Washington, Deputy President Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, explains.
Digit can carry a maximum weight of 18 kilos, it knows how to go up and down stairs and react to the obstacles in its path. Additionally, it can move on non-homogeneous surfaces such as gardens or gravel paths. As it is equipped with numerous sensors, Digit can also take advantage of the data collected by the self-driving vehicle that acts as the mother ship by sharing with the robot sensitive and useful data to its movement such as maps, distances, terrain conditions, etc. A wealth of information that can later be triangulated with Ford's cloud accessible through wifi, a feature that also allows double control over the robot's movements itself.
“We are working shoulder-to-shoulder with robots within companies and we live with them in everyday life as they push and deliver our packages. That's why our first goal is to make sure that they are safe, reliable and able to collaborate intelligently with humans”, Washington concluded. All to maximize the benefits that such a solution can generate, such as time savings, energy savings and greater efficiency of operations. Positive developments that push a cutting-edge industry towards the mainstream channel, currently only a handful or regulations away.
The same ones Drone Company Wing, Alphabet/Google owned company that received clearance for drone deliveries in Australia and the United States where it has already delivered about 3,000 parcels from fastfood chains and retail directly on your doorstep. All in about 15 minutes, depending on the customer's location.
The goal of the project is to find the final solution to enable a delivery system from the vehicle to the front door
But what are the pros and cons of this frontier of automation? For a start, a different transport network for the lighter goods would free up space for bulkier products on traditional means. Once fully operational, solutions with drones or robots would allow human counterparts to be devoted to other less burdensome and more refined tasks, such as improving the technological endowment. A transfer of tasks which would ensure greater safety for operators avoiding possible accidents. Of course, all this currently requires large investments that often have to contend with a limited autonomy of systems (due to the charging of batteries). So much so that there is still a need for human supervision in case of malfunction, sudden obstacles and the need to guarantee of customer privacy.
Beyond the technical issues, the impact of these means on the ecosystem must also be considered. The use of robots and drones would allow for a reduction and greater efficiency of the fleet of vans and pickup trucks that currently carry parcels on our roads. According to a study by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Carnegie Mellon University, published in the publication Nature Communications, the emission savings produced per kilometre by a drone route compared to a truck for packages weighing up to 8 kilos is about 10%, a percentage that can vary depending on the road network of the various states.