Agility Robotics raises $20M to scale production of Digit humanoid

RBR50 company Agility Robotics, a leading developer of bipedal robots, has raised $20 million in Series A funding. The funding will help the Albany, Ore.-based company to scale its operation and production of the Digit humanoid, which started shipping to customers in July 2020.

The Series A was co-led by DCVC and Playground Global and also includes MFV Partners, TDK Ventures, ITIC, Sony Innovation Fund, and Safar Partners. Agility Robotics has now raised a total of $29 million in funding. It raised an $8 million in 2018. The seed round was also led by Playground Global, an early stage investment firm that has funded many robotics startups, including Canvas Technology, Fabric, Farmwise, Righthand Robotics, Robust AI, Skydio and more.

Digit is currently being marketed primarily to logistics providers, e-commerce retailers and research and development labs for package handling and delivery, inspecting hazardous work areas and more.

Digit’s upper torso includes integrated sensing, computing, and two 4-DOF arms that can carry up to 40 pounds (18 kilograms). Digit also has two 2-DOF feet, sealed joints for outdoor operation, a UN 38.3 certified battery for cargo air shipment, and an API so it can be used as a development platform. Digit navigates autonomously thanks to LiDAR and other sensors.

“This latest infusion of capital will enable the company to meet the demand from logistics providers, e-commerce retailers and other businesses for robots that can work alongside humans to automate repetitive, physically demanding or dangerous work,” said Agility co-founder Jonathan Hurst. “We look forward to accelerating the development and deployment of humanoid robots across industries to automate some of the jobs that must be done in spaces designed for humans.”

Agility Robotics Digit

Agility Robotics’ Digit humanoid. | Credit: Agility Robotics

Hurst is also a professor of robotics in Oregon State University’s College of Engineering. His lab created ATRIAS, a research robot that, perhaps, was the first robot 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 Digit, which can handle a range of indoor and outdoor terrains.

Hurst said walking robots will one day be a common sight, similar to automobiles, and with a similar impact.

“Digit can perform a range of different jobs because so many tasks have been designed to be performed by a human form,” Hurst said. “We’re excited to work with investors who understand our unique approach to legged locomotion, see the promise and share our vision of robots that work in human spaces with stairs, curbs, hallways and uneven surfaces.”

As I previously stated, commercializing Digit is a major milestone for Agility Robotics and humanoids in general. It’s the reason Agility was named an RBR50 company. Digit builds on 20-plus years of research and development from the team on human-like dynamic mobility and manipulation.

Hurst was the first guest to appear on The Robot Report Podcast. You can listen to the interview below. We talk to him about how passive dynamics steered the direction of Agility’s robots, the role of simulation and reinforcement learning, and the fourth version of Digit that is being developed. He also talks about the evolution of the company’s robots, technical challenges and business opportunities of legged robots, comparisons to Boston Dynamics, his favorite robots, and much more.

“TDK Ventures’ investment in, and partnership with, Agility Robotics represents a common mission to elevate and deliver a versatile, safe, and energy efficient humanoid robot that can work in human spaces,” said Andrew Maywah, Investment Director at TDK Ventures. “Agility is pioneering an innovative robot that is a key part of automating many different work environments. At TDK, we plan to leverage our expertise in sensors, batteries, and power management solutions to further expand robot capabilities.”

Ford purchased the first two Digits off the production line. Ford is exploring how Digit could be placed in self-driving delivery vans to carry packages from vans to customers’ front doors. This is what Ford is calling “last-50-feet delivery.”

“It’s never been clearer that our society’s demand for manual labor exceeds our ability to generate it safely, and it is far past time we have a solution which can work alongside humans to raise the bar on quality of life and free up human time,” said Agility Robotics co-founder and CEO Damion Shelton.

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