Delivery Options: Drone or Driverless Vehicle with Robot?

If the thought of getting your latest Amazon or on-line purchase delivered by a drone particularly large heavy ones makes you feel uneasy, how about greeting at your door a robot that just arrived in a self-driven car? Testing autonomous delivery is not new. Back in 2017, Ford partnered with Domino’s in the U.S. to test-drive the self-driving pizza delivery experience. Previously, they’ve also partnered with Walmart, Postmates, a food delivery company and other businesses in the Miami, Florida area.

Now, Ford Motor Company is taking the research and driverless delivery one step forward into the future by adding a non-human delivery assistant into the mix. According to the car-maker, they’re exploring a brand-new frontier in the world of autonomy — and re-thinking about how they make deliveries.

In their latest collaboration, they’re teaming up with Agility Robotics to design and build a two-legged delivery robot. It’s called Digit. Digit is designed to “approximate” the look of a human. And while one would be hard-pressed to compare Digit to the android “Data” or other Humanoids,  you might be most impressed with the replication of human walking movements.

Trekkies of course would certainly recognize that name as the fictional character played by Brent Spiner in the TV Series Star Trek: The Next Generation and a number of the Star Trek franchise films.

The driverless-car and robot are not only a funky and high-tech tag-team, they’re also designed to be efficient and elevate the customer experience. One way is by maximizing cargo space, i.e. getting as many packages as it can into one vehicle. While a humanoid would certainly need to sit in the driver’s seat of a delivery vehicle, Digit’s clever design allows it to leave the depot tightly folded up in the back of the self-driving vehicle. When it arrives at a delivery point, it can be deployed. It unfolds itself, grabs the package and carries out the delivery.

He’s strong, and won’t weigh down the vehicle. According to a Medium article by Dr. Ken Washington, Vice President, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, and Chief Technology Officer, Digit is built from lightweight material and capable of lifting packages that weigh up to 40 pounds (about 18kg).

Not everyone lives in a single-family dwelling a nice smooth driveway or walkway. Digit can go up and down a flight of stairs, navigate naturally through uneven terrain, and even react to things like being bumped without losing its balance and tipping over.

Now as smart and agile as Digit is, he may need a little help now and then. Washington shares that in addition to its built-in smart, Digit is equipped with stereo camera and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors and enough sensory power to navigate through basic scenarios. If it encounters a roadblock, it can send a picture back to the vehicle. The vehicle with all of its maps, data and history could attempt to find a solution. Failing that, a help request could be sent to the cloud to seek help from other systems, in essence putting their heads together to resolve the problem.

While drone delivery can benefit by being less prone to traffic jams, the driverless vehicle and robot seem like a more down to earth solution. I’m not sure how Digit would fair in sub-zero temperatures, northerly winds and icy sidewalks of the Great White North in mid December. Regardless, it warms me to know that while we can’t digitally download everything and we’re likely not to see Star Trek Transporter technology in the near future that there are companies out there trying to develop ways to help us get our beloved purchases delivered to our doorstep safe and sound.

Greg Gazin, also known as the Gadget Guy and Gadget Greg, is a syndicated veteran tech columnist, communication, leadership and technology speaker, facilitator, blogger, podcaster and author. Reach him @gadgetgreg or at

Photo, Video, Courtesy Ford Motor Company.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.