Ford is experimenting with two robot dogs that it has borrowed from Boston Dynamics.

They’re part of a pilot program designed to save time, reduce cost and increase efficiency at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant.

The four-legged, 30kg robots can sit, shake hands and roll over, as well as perform other more useful tasks such as 360-degree camera scans, as well as handle 30-degree grades and climb stairs for hours at a time.

Bright yellow and easily recognisable, the robots are equipped with five cameras and can travel up to 5km/h on a battery lasting nearly two hours.

They will be used to scan the plant floor and assist engineers in updating the original Computer Aided Design which is used in preparation for retooling plants to build new product.

In the old days, the process could take up to two weeks and cost up to $300,00.

With the help of the robots it can be done in half the time and at a fraction of the cost.

Robot handler Paula Wiebelhaus, who controls her robot through a handset, said the key to their success is their agility.

Ultimately, however, the plan is to operate the robots remotely.

The two robots are named Fluffy and Spot, the latter a reference to the name of the product.

They have three operational gaits – a walk for stable ground, an amble for uneven terrain and a special speed for stairs.

 

They can change positions from a crouch to a stretch, which allows them to be deployed to difficult-to-reach areas within the plant.

They can handle tough terrain, from grates to steps to 30-degree inclines.

If they fall, they can right themselves.

They maintain a safe, set distance from objects to prevent collisions.

At times, Fluffy sits on its robotic haunches and rides on the back of a small, round Autonomous Mobile Robot, known informally as Scouter.

Scouter glides smoothly up and down the aisles of the plant, allowing Fluffy to conserve battery power until it’s time to get to work.

Scouter can autonomously navigate facilities while scanning and capturing 3-D point clouds to generate a CAD of the facility.

If an area is too tight for Scouter, Fluffy comes to the rescue.

“There are areas in the plant that you might not want to walk into because they might be tough to manoeuvre,” Wiebelhaus said.

“It’s easier and safer to send Fluffy back there.”

“Fluffy is an amazing manufacturing tool. Yes, it’s interesting and new, but Fluffy should really be valued for his work and tenacity.

“He can do so much more than dance and roll over. We want to push him to the limits in the manufacturing plant and see what value he has for the company.”

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Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.
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