Ford Tries to Solve Self-Driving’s “Last 50-Foot” Problem

Ford Motor Company, one of the many automakers involved in the self-driving or autonomous vehicle movement, is trying to solve the “last 50-foot” problem; tackling the issue the best it can with a headless robot.

The “last 50-foot” problem is a problem nearly every company will run into if it deals with delivery by self-driving cars. When a company’s self-driving vehicle pulls up to a house, how will its product get to the front door or the last 50 feet with the lack of a human driver?

Ford decided the solution to this problem is a headless robot that will accompany the self-driving vehicle. Ford’s robot known under the name of Digit was created by Agility Robotics, a small startup located in Albany, Oregon. Digit has humanistic features with two sturdy legs, arms that can carry up to a 40-pound load, a torso embedded with a video camera and a headless upper half with a laser-radar sensor. While Digit may have an unorthodox or unappealing look to some, it more than makes up for it in its practicality; featuring a lightweight frame, the readiness to overcome obstacles with its bipedal feature, and the ability to compact itself into a small square for storage purposes.

Even though Digit is in existence, the public will not see this robot until 2021 or later. Ford plans to wait and release it as part of the company’s self-driving vehicle fleet initiative. In the meantime, Ford will continue research on Digit. Specifically, Digit’s acceptance with the general population; starting with real-world tests that involve Digit roaming the organization’s facilities.

This step toward solving the “last 50-foot” problem with robots is gaining momentum, driven by the potential profits self-driving delivery can offer. Without a human driver, delivery costs can decrease immensely, and the financial return could be in the billions. For these possible benefits, companies other than Ford are creating unique delivery robots of their own. Companies such as Anybotics, Continental, Segway, FedEx, and Starship Robots.