The end of humanity isn’t going to come as a result of military robots taking it into their silicon heads to wipe us all out. It’s going to be the result of domestic robots doing that very thing. At least, that’s how the science fiction goes. And seeing Digit, the creation of Ford and a robotics startup called Agility Robotics, hasn’t really assured us that things will go otherwise. But that’s mostly because we can see this bipedal critter being really useful. And, therefore, everywhere.
Digit is a delivery robot, designed to fit in the boot of a (probably self-driving) vehicle and hop out when a package needs to be dropped on a doorstep. The compact folding and unloading sequence, as shown by Ford in a Medium post, is eerily reminiscent of a Star Wars droid being dumped from a dropship. It’s not quite on the same level as the NS-5 infestation from I, Robot but it’s giving us the same sort of vibe. Still, you know, it fits in the back of a car.
Actually, Digit doesn’t look all that physically imposing. The structure appears to be fragile, all spindly limbs (made from hydraulics, in case you mistakenly think you can take this thing in a fight) and very basic appendages. The robot might be susceptible to being knocked off-balance but it’s fit for purpose: Package delivery. Rubber feet give it traction on a range of surfaces and the hands are just knurled rubber balls. Not quite as menacing as mechanical claws, yeah?
The point, for Ford, is to get these totally harmless robots into autonomous delivery vehicles, where they’ll drop packages off on doorsteps all over the States. Digit has been designed to manage a range of terrain and even stairs, but we suspect that the first wave will have a human on hand. In case the mighty robot overlord slips, falls, and needs to be righted. Until, that is, they’re able to get up on their own. Their ‘eyesight’ is based around LIDAR and actual cameras, which is similar to how Boston Dynamics’ equally unnerving dog-bots get around. Ford isn’t looking at making Digit autonomous yet, though. It’ll take cues from the vehicle’s camera systems, as well as a possible remote human operator.
But don’t expect Digit to deliver packages any time too soon. There’s no timeline for this tech to hit the streets. There’s a whole lot to work out first. Like self-driving cars, for one. But since those things are still in development, there’s still time for Digit to finish Package Delivery School, we guess. Go on, bipedal delivery person. You can do it!
For another look at some robots that might creep you out, check out Agility’s Cassie. It comes across like the Watcher from Horizon: Zero Dawn. Minus the unnerving giant eye, but we’re sure you can add that later. If you like.