Ford gives Boston Dynamics’ high-tech robot dog Spot a job

Ford is about to deploy two robot dogs at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Dearborn, Michigan.

Technology specialist Boston Dynamics recently started offering its “Spot” robot dog to industry for $75,000 a pop, though Ford is leasing the high-tech quadruped for its pilot program next month.

Spot can be fitted with various payloads, according to the job in hand. In Ford’s case, five onboard cameras, laser technology, and bespoke software will help the two robots carry out their work, which will involve scanning the precise layout of its plant, which can change over time without being documented. The gathered data will enable engineers to update the original computer-aided design used when the company prepares to retool a plant.

Ford has already nicknamed one of its two robots “Fluffy” because … well, because. The other one is going by the product name — Spot.

Mark Goderis, Ford’s digital engineering manager, says that while Boston Dynamics’ four-legged robot “definitely has a coolness factor,” its advanced technology means it also offers a serious opportunity for the automaker to carry out some of its work more efficiently.

“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,” Goderis said in a release. “Scanning one plant could take two weeks. With Fluffy’s help, we are able to do it in half the time.”

And while the old scanning process cost nearly $300,000 per facility, the robot can do the job “for a fraction of the cost.”
The improvements in speed and cost should help Ford to bring vehicles to market sooner, Goderis said.

Ford engineers have been particularly impressed by the robot’s versatility, able as it is to handle uneven terrain and stairs. Its ability to move from a crouch to a stretch also means the robot dog can be deployed in difficult-to-reach areas within the plant.

Fluffy’s handler, Ford engineer Paula Wiebelhaus, said: “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.”

Ford is the first major manufacturer to make use of Spot since it went on general sale in June. But in the last few months, the robot has been seen operating in a number of different roles, helping doctors and patients at a hospital in Boston, working as a sheepdog in New Zealand, and even entertaining as part of a dance troupe at baseball games in Japan.

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