Might sound whimsical but yes, two to three years from now, humanoid robots might deliver packages to the doorstep. These are the words of Damion Shelton, the CEO, and co-founder of Agility Robotics, a start-up based in Albany, Oregon, which is on the spree of building robots that can walk and run.
Currently, Agility Robotics is selling Cassie, a two-legged robot with no arms, mainly to researchers for robotics work. Cassie is also named after the cassowary, a two-legged flightless bird from Australia and New Zealand.
Till now, Agility Robotics has sold three Cassie robots and also has confirmed the sales for another three in progress. The next goal is to sell another six Cassie robots. In this context, the tweet read that, “so optimistically 12 customers total for the entire production run of Cassie”. Each Cassie costs less than $300,000.
— Michigan Engineering (@UMengineering) October 30, 2017
Also, in an interview, Shelton added that “That is obviously, though, a relatively compact market, and is not why we’re doing the company”.
To this, Shelton added that the next generation of the company’s legged robots would also have arms. In fact, the next target for use for the more humanoid robot would be carrying packages from delivery trucks to the door.
For instance, Shelton gave the example of his house, where a legged robot would assist in delivery. He has a steep driveway, so delivery trucks often park at the bottom and the driver has to walk the package up to his doorstep.
To this, he added that “We see a lot of that kind of general class of problem … which is that the last-mile solution works for most of the last mile and then not the last 50 to 100 feet. Because those [last yards] tend to be environments that are designed for people, and people have legs. So things that are very easy for a person to navigate — like a curb or a flight of steps or toys left in the front yard or whatever — things that are very easy for people to kind of move through without thinking about it”. To this, he also added that there are roadblocks for anything with wheels.
Even further in the future, Agility Robotics has also further plans of using the robots in conjunction with autonomous vehicles.
To delve deep, Agility Robotics hopes to be testing humanoid robots delivering packages in pilot studies by the end of 2018. Commercial deployment would be starting on a limited basis in two to three years. The deliveries would be also starting in areas of the country with mild environments, like Southern California. By 2021 or 2022 Agility Robotics also expects to see slightly more widespread use of its products for last-mile package delivery. In fact, Agility Robotics could either sell or lease the robots to delivery companies.
For a roboticist, a future where legged robots deliver packages to the doorstep might be exciting, but for regular people, the idea of humanoid robots can be frightening.
— Agility Robotics (@agilityrobotics) September 6, 2017
To this, Shelton added that “We’ve made deliberate choices to use softer shapes, bright colors, not going for super anthropomorphic. There is a need to make sure that you know the robots don’t come across as threatening and that we are mindful of people’s reactions to them. I would say that that is something that the robotics community as a whole has tended to not think through,” says Shelton. “[P]eople have tended to produce things that look cool to robot enthusiasts, which end up with sort of a science fiction-y kind of look to them — a lot of white colors or shiny metal that looks a lot more ‘Terminatory’ than something you would want to have running around your house.”
Also, this technology for Agility Robotics had grown when research co-founder and CTO Jonathan Hurst did at the Dynamic Robotics Laboratory at Oregon State University. Agility Robotics incorporated in November 2015. In March, the company had also announced that it had raised $8 million in venture funding from Playground Global, Sony Innovation Fund, and Robotics Hub.