Automakers are working on ways for self-driving cars to deliver pizzas, mail and all sorts of packages to consumers' homes. But even if they can figure out how to reach someone's driveway without human intervention, there's another conundrum to solve: how to get from there to the front door?
Ford Motor Co., in partnership with Agility Robotics, last week showed one possible way to address the "last 50-foot problem." A two-legged robot named Digit can pop out of the back of a vehicle, traverse steps and other uneven terrain and even react to being bumped without falling over.
"As humans, we take these abilities for granted, but they become extremely important when engineering a robot to navigate the nuances of various environments," Ken Washington, Ford's vice president for research and advanced engineering, wrote in a post on Medium. To keep the robot lightweight and agile, Washington said, most of the sensors and computing brains Digit uses to stay on its feet are located on the vehicle, which wirelessly transmits the best path to the door.
Or, as Bloomberg's Keith Naughton described it, echoing a famous tabloid headline, "It's a headless robot in a driverless car."