DEARBORN, Michigan – This 30kg, four-legged, dog-like robot can sit, shake hands, and roll over. He (we assume) can also perform 360-degree camera scans, handle 30-degree slopes, and climb stairs.
And never get tired – so long as a bowl of doggie volts is available. The one in the images and video is called Fluffy (any readers got a better name, comment below).
The 30kg quadruped dogbot is part of a Ford pilot programme intended to save time, reduce costs, and increase efficiency.
The dogbot’s handler Paula Wiebelhaus says Fluffy is one of the two leased from Boston Dynamics, (The other is called Spot after the product’s actual name.)
Each is bright yellow, can carry five cameras, trot around for about two hours between dog volt times, and will be used to scan the floor of assembly plants. They can even roll over – though it’s not known if they like that.
Mark Goderis, Ford’s digital engineering manager, told The Corner in a media release: “We design and build plants. As they age, changes are made but are rarely documented.
“Robots to scan our facility to record what they look like today and build a new engineering model. That digital model is then used when we need to retool the plant for new products.”
Without Fluffy, Goderis added, the update would be far more tedious: “We had to use a camera tripod, walk around the facility, and wait at various locations until the laser scans were done – which could take two weeks.
”With Fluffy’s help we can do the job in half the time.”
The old way also was expensive – about $300 000 per facility.
In time, Goderis says, the robots will be unleashed to scan and send reports immediately from anywhere in America. ”For now they can be programmed to follow a specific path and be controlled from up to 50 metres with a tablet computer.”
The key to Fluffy and Spot’s success is their agility, says Wiebelhaus, who controls her robot through a gaming-like device that allows her to remotely see the camera view – or halt the dogbots which have three operational gaits – walk for stable ground, amble for uneven surfaces, and even climb stairs.
They can also crouch or stretch to video-record hard-to-reach places within the plant. If one falls it can get regain its feet.
Fluffy can even squat on a small robot called, informally, Scouter. Scouter glides smoothly along aisles in a plant to minimise Fuffy’s appetite botbiscuits.
“There are areas in plants that are tough for a human to access,” says Wiebelhaus. “It’s easier and safer to send in Fluffy. He’s an amazing manufacturing tool but 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 plants to see what other value he might have for the future.”