Next-gen Digit humanoid wants to automate logistics tasks

Agility Robotics is unveiling at ProMat the next generation of its Digit humanoid. Most humanoids to date have been designed for research labs. Digit, on the other hand, is being built specifically to carry out tasks in warehouses and distribution centers. It’s starting by targeting bulk material handling tasks such as tote movement.

At ProMat, the Digit humanoid will carry out tasks autonomously in a replica warehouse in Agility’s booth. The Robot Report is attending ProMat. We’ll be swinging by Agility’s booth early on and will update this story with new information and videos.

Digit stands about 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs about 140 lb. Updates in the next generation include newly designed end effectors optimized for reaching high/low, pulling, picking up, and placing objects commonly found in e-commerce and shipping warehouses, like plastic totes. Digit also has a new head with LED animated eyes, which allow for improved human-robot interaction such as using simple expressions to convey information and intent. For example, the new Digit uses body language and eye movement to indicate which direction it is about to turn.

Other new features include upgraded sensors and cameras, increased battery capacity, longer run time, improved rate of charging, and a new charging dock.

Agility is also opening up applications for a limited number of spots in the Agility Partner Program (APP). The APP will provide partners with an opportunity to shape the development of Digit’s skills. Agility said it expects to deliver the first beta robots to customers in this program in early 2024. The company expects the humanoid to be generally available in 2025.

Next-gen Digit humanoid. | Credit: Agility Robotics

“Three years ago, we introduced the first commercially available bipedal robot with a human form factor made for work. Since then, we have seen enormous interest in Digit from multinational logistics companies, and have worked closely with them to understand how they want to use Digit to improve warehouse and supply chain operations. We designed the next generation of Digit with those customer use cases in mind,” said Damion Shelton, co-founder and CEO of Agility Robotics.

Jonathan Hurst, CTO and co-founder of Agility Robotics, is also a professor of robotics at Oregon State University’s College of Engineering. His lab created ATRIAS, a research robot that was one of the first robots to reproduce human walking gait dynamics. Agility spun out of Oregon State University in 2015 to commercialize this research. Agility first launched the Cassie bipedal robot, which was then followed up by earlier versions of Digit.

In April 2022, Agility raised $150 million in Series B financing. DCVC and Playground Global led the funding round, which also included participation from the Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund.

“We’ve learned so much about how robots can partner with the human workforce and work naturally in human environments, and we can’t wait to see the positive impact that the new Digit will have in the world,” said Hurst. “When people and robots work together in logistics operations, working conditions improve for people, warehouse efficiency improves overall, the supply chain moves more smoothly – everybody wins.”

“Supply chains are still feeling the after-effects of the pandemic, and the demand for warehouse labor far exceeds available talent. Companies are turning to automation now more than ever to help mitigate future disruptions. With logistics labor issues such as high turnover, burnout, and injury continuing to rise, we believe Digit to be the future of work,” continued Shelton. “We look forward to Digit augmenting workforces, taking on the ‘dull, dirty, and dangerous’ tasks, and allowing people to focus on more creative and complex work. We like to think of Digit as enabling humans to be more human.”

Are humanoids gaining momentum?

Building a humanoid that can do anything reliably, including balancing and walking, is extremely difficult. But several companies think the enabling technologies have improved so much in the last 10 years that building a general-purpose humanoid might now be possible.

Tesla is certainly the most high-profile of the bunch with its Optimus humanoid. Tesla has at least shown a real-life version of Optimus, whereas a startup that just emerged from stealth, Figure, has only shown renderings of its humanoid. Apptronik is also developing a humanoid and will be talking about its approach at the upcoming Robotics Summit & Expo, which runs May 10-11 in Boston.

Of course, Boston Dynamics still has Atlas. It’s far and away the most impressive humanoid ever built. And, yes, it’s real. I’ve seen the parkour routine in person. Boston Dynamics has been clear throughout Atlas’ development that its humanoid is purely for R&D purposes. And although it recently unveiled a video of Atlas “working” at a mock construction site, it said humanoids that can routinely tackle dirty and dangerous jobs in the real world are a “long way off.”

With all this momentum around humanoids, perhaps we’ll soon find out who’s right.

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