Ford Receives Assistance from Four-Legged Robots to Scan Manufacturing Plant
Denrie Caila Perez posted on September 02, 2020 |
The automaker enlisted the use of robots to reassess its facility.

Ford’s Van Dyke Transmission Plant welcomed two special visitors in early August. Two four-legged robots were recently lent to the automaker by Boston Dynamics to assist engineers in data collection as they reassess their plant. According to the automaker, changes in a plant overtime is rarely documented. When the robots scan the facility, they are able to produce a digital model that the team can use to update their engineering model accordingly—particularly for when they need to retool the plant for new products.

“We used to use a tripod, and we would walk around the facility stopping at different locations, each time standing around for five minutes waiting for the laser to scan. Scanning one plant could take two weeks. With Fluffy’s help, we are able to do it in half the time,” explained Mark Goderis, Ford’s digital engineering manager.

Each weighing only 70 pounds and sporting matching yellow coats, Fluffy and Spot are both capable of squeezing into difficult-to-reach areas around the facility. The two robots are equipped with five high-definition cameras and laser scanners, allowing them to efficiently scan an area with ease.

The robots have three operational stances: a walk for stable ground, an amble for uneven terrain, and a special speed for stairs. They can be deployed on tough terrain, grates, steps, and even 30-degree inclines. Besides easily switching positions from a crouch to a stretch, they can also right themselves if they fall and avoid collisions with surrounding objects.

In addition to Fluffy and Spot, an autonomous mobile robot known as Scouter often also tags along. Scouter can capture 3D point clouds and generate a CAD drawing while carrying one of the four-legged robots, who can take over anytime when an area is too tight for Scouter to access.

This isn’t the first time a four-legged scanning robot was used for this purpose. Spot was also deployed at the Denver International Airport earlier this year to assist in creating a point cloud of a terminal building currently in construction.

To use scanning technology back then, it would often cost up to $300,000 just for one facility. According to Ford, the success of this pilot could mean more opportunities for its manufacturing team to scan all of the company’s plants at just a fraction of the cost. Goderis says that they hope to be able operate the robots remotely and enable them to receive reports from anywhere in the country. For now, Fluffy and Spot can only be operated from 50 meters away and programmed to follow a designated path.

For more news and stories, check out how this robot is helping fight COVID-19 with UV-C light here.

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