Meet Fluffy, a robot dog trained by Ford!
Carmaker is using the four-legged robot to laser scan its plant, helping engineers retool
Fluffy, the four-legged dog-like robot is a 70-pound quadruped with distinctly dog-like mobility. Deployed as part of a Ford manufacturing pilot programme designed to save time, reduce cost and increase efficiency, Fluffy is built by Boston Dynamics – a company known for building sophisticated mobile robots.
Fluffy can sit, shake hands and roll over. It also can perform 360-degree camera scans, handle 30-degree grades and climb stairs for hours at a time.
Being piloted at Ford’s Van Dyke Transmission Plant, the bright yellow robot is equipped with five cameras, and it can travel up to 3 mph on a battery lasting nearly two hours and will be used to scan the plant floor and assist engineers in updating the original Computer Aided Design which is utilised when they retool the plants.
“We design and build the plant. After that, over the years, changes are made that rarely get documented,” says Mark Goderis, Ford’s digital engineering manager. “By having the robots scan our facility, we can see what it actually looks like now and build a new engineering model. That digital model is then used when we need to retool the plant for new products.” Ford says the old way of doing this was tedious and expensive – it cost nearly $300,000 to scan one facility. If this pilot works, Ford’s manufacturing team could scan all its plants for a fraction of the cost.
For now, the robots are programmed to follow a specific path and can be operated from up to 50 metres away with the out-of-the-box tablet application. However, going forward Ford aims to be able to operate the robots remotely, programming them for plant missions and receiving reports immediately from anywhere in the country.
The key to Fluffy’s success is its agility, says Paula Wiebelhaus, who controls her robot through a gaming-like device that allows her to remotely see the camera view. Should an issue occur, Wiebelhaus’ control device features a safe stop that stops it from colliding with anything.
The robot has 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 even maintain a safe, set distance from objects to prevent collisions.
“There are areas in the plant that you might not want to walk into because they might be tough to maneuver,” says Wiebelhaus. “It’s easier and safer to send Fluffy back there.”
Image Credit: Ford
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