What is the current situation at the Van Dyke plant? In order to evaluate the condition of the Ford location in the state of Michigan, employees of the US car manufacturer are now relying on the help of Fluffy and Spot, two robots from the US manufacturer Boston Dynamics.
The robots are controlled by Mark Goderis, Digital Engineering Manager at Ford, and his team. They generate a digital model from their scan of the plant in order to document the current status. This model can help if the plant needs to be changed, for example because it needs to be converted for new products. Such a documentary is normally rarely made, said Mark Goderis.
The robots are monitored on a tablet
The two four-legged Spot robots are each equipped with five cameras. They operate remotely and follow a predefined round. The operators follow their steps from a distance of around 50 meters on a tablet. The robots can be in action for almost two hours before their battery is empty.
Such checks are routine, but very expensive using conventional means. “We used to use a tripod, and we walked across the facility, stopping at different places, standing around for five minutes each time, waiting for the laser to scan.”says Goderis. “Scanning a system could take two weeks.” The costs were correspondingly high: According to Ford, the documentation of a location cost just under $ 300,000.
That should change with Fluffy and Spot: With their help, the work can be done in half the time, said Goderis. In the future, the work should be even easier, then the robots should walk through the factories remotely and scan them.
Spot is a four-legged robot modeled on a dog. The four-legged friend is about 80 cm high and weighs 25 kg. It is powered by electric motors, which makes it the quietest robot in the Boston Dynamics collection.
Where a dog’s head is sitting, actuators can be attached to the spot. When used at Ford, they are cameras. But a gripper arm is also possible – then the robot looks more like a giraffe.
Spot is the first commercial robot from Boston Dynamics. The predecessors, such as the Alpha Dog cargo robot, were primarily developed for the US military.
At the end of 2013, Google bought the company to set up its own robotics department. When the division was closed, Alphabet sold Boston Dynamics to the Japanese technology group Softbank.