robot packages

Ford Motor Company/YouTube

A robot could soon be delivering your packages from a self-driving car

Human delivery drivers may become obsolete.


Mikael Thalen


Posted on May 23, 2019   Updated on May 20, 2021, 11:59 am CDT

Robots could soon be arriving at your home in self-driving cars to deliver packages right to your front door.

That’s the vision outlined by Ford Motor Company and Agility Robotics Thursday during its introduction of “Digit,” a bipedal robot designed to move just like a human.

In a video on Ford’s YouTube page, the robot can be seen unfolding out the back of a self-driving vehicle before navigating its way through a home’s yard, package in hand.

According to Dr. Ken Washington, Ford’s Chief Technology Officer, Digit is capable of analyzing its surroundings to overcome impediments during a delivery.

“Built out of lightweight material and capable of lifting packages that weigh up to 40 pounds, Digit can go up and down stairs, walk naturally through uneven terrain, and even react to things like being bumped without losing its balance and falling over,” Washington writes.

The robot is intended to automate the final and perhaps most technologically difficult step of any delivery: bringing the package from the vehicle to the recipient’s front door.

“Gaining access to a customer’s door often requires walking through obstacles, including going upstairs and dealing with other challenges, which can be hard for robots with wheels to do,” Washington adds, noting that only 1% of U.S. homes are wheelchair-accessible. “Digit has been designed to walk upright without wasting energy, so it has no issue traversing the same types of environments most people do every day.”

If Digit finds itself in an uncertain situation, however, the robot is designed to take advantage of the self-driving vehicle it was transported in to overcome adverse conditions.

Given that self-driving cars are equipped with powerful cameras and sensors, Digit can request that the vehicle scan the front of a home to let it know the best and safest path to the front door.

“Outfitted with a LiDAR and a few stereo cameras, Digit itself has just enough sensory power to navigate through basic scenarios,” Washington writes. “If it encounters an unexpected obstacle, it can send an image back to the vehicle and have the vehicle configure a solution.”

In cases where neither the self-driving car nor Digit can determine how to approach a home, the car can send the data it has gathered “into the cloud and request help from other systems.”

While it remains unclear as to whether the proposal will actually lead to delivery robots, the announcement represents yet another instance where automation could replace human workers. And with Amazon rolling out automated packaging machines and other robots, it’s possible one day your packages could be delivered without any human involvement whatsoever.


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*First Published: May 23, 2019, 3:29 pm CDT