Ford Runs Toward the Future with Four-Legged Robots on Plant Floors

At a transmission plant in the Michigan city known for automotive development and production, Ford is testing a pair of four-legged robots. The robots are being tested for productivity in hopes that they could eventually aid the industry in masses.

Ford has historically used scans to ascertain what machinery is there and what items need to be updated or moved. These scans are generally implemented when Ford updates its plants with new products. However, scans that Ford used in the past amounted to about $300,000 per facility for 2 weeks of labor. This involved workers manually controlling tripods and lasers. Ford aims to elevate the productivity of these scans by using robots that do the same amount of work in half the time, at a fraction of the cost.

Fluffy and Spot, the two robots now roaming plant floors in suburban Detroit, were produced by and leased from Boston Dynamics. Beginning next month, Ford aims to use the robots, each with five dynamic cameras, to survey the Van Dyke Transmission Plant.

“Fluffy is an amazing manufacturing tool,” said Paula Wiebelhaus, the robot’s handler. “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 rollover. We want to push him to the limits in the manufacturing plant and see what value he has for the company.”

The robots’ state-of-the-art technology allows the user to see from the robots’ perspective. Users can see the cameras first-hand as if they are Fluffy or Spot! The robots can even be operated at 3 miles per hour from as far as one hundred and sixty feet away. They also have Scouter, a circular base to perch on, that can move around the plant and conserve battery.

Ford is excited to implement this technology, especially after seeing the positive effects of Digit, a two-legged delivery robot, and collaborative robots that help workers in global factories. For now, Ford is positioning Fluffy and Spot at the Van Dyke Transmission center, but if all goes well, the automaker could see a definite implementation of these technologies in other factories such as its Dearborn Truck and Kansas City Assembly plants.

COVID-19 Continues to Affect and the Auto Industry

The coronavirus has taken an unprecedented toll on the auto industry. When the virus hit the United States, auto producers were forced to close production centers. After months of minimal production and sales rates, auto producers reopened plants, primarily with a limited number of workers and with safety guidelines including a mask mandate. Concerns are now increasing as many workers are refusing to show up to work due to fears of contracting the virus in close quarters with other workers.

In states where coronavirus cases are climbing, such as Michigan and Missouri, many employees are missing work, causing companies like Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler to hire temporary workers. General Motors has chosen to reconstruct shifts to aid in solving the issue. The lack of employees showing up to work is due to not only workers staying home who have the virus, but also the vast number of those who fear to return to work. Further, any employee who has been exposed to someone with the virus must stay home for the typical 14-day quarantine period. Industry leaders fear another shutdown and the potentially immobilizing economic outcome of such an occurrence. For this reason, many U.S. based automakers aim to keep their plants running while addressing safety concerns from workers.

Ford and Fiat Chrysler declared the hiring of temporary workers to account for sick and quarantining staff unable to work. Temporary workers are not strangers to the auto industry, as the hiring of fill-ins is common practice for employees out on vacations or leaves of comparable length. Ford has hired more than 1,000 temporary workers to keep its Kentucky plant up and running. Kentucky recently reported its highest number of cases per day. Though temporary hires are on the incline for the auto producer, it could very well be the company’s savior during current uncertainty.

General Motors produces the Chevrolet and GMC midsize pickup in Missouri, but the state’s positivity rate is only increasing. GM has worked hard to rearrange its schedules for staff members to accommodate for people who are out sick or quarantining. Therefore, the company is up to cut number three as they plan to eliminate another shift, which would result in assigning workers to alternate locations. GM urges workers to follow safety protocols, at home and work, seven days a week. The automaker aims to guarantee jobs to its workers. Prioritizing the safety of workers may lower the overall productivity rate, but GM wants its workers to feel safe coming into work each day. Tesla argues that safety protocols at work are prioritizing the health of workers, but they cannot track and mandate employee actions beyond work hours.

If the biggest auto producers in the country decided to shut down factories, primarily located in Michigan, the auto industry would be threatened as a whole. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently remarked that the shutdown of plants would be necessary if residents don’t obey a required mask order. The state’s cases per day have shown an increase.

COVID-19 and the Altered Automotive Industry

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to adversely affect industries nationwide. The auto industry has faced many challenges before, including the 2008 auto industry bailout and wars over oil, but the economic impact of the current pandemic has proved historic. The effects of the virus are reducing the overall production rate of vehicles and, therefore, profit.

Before the pandemic, the vast industry functioned differently. The purchase of a vehicle was an extremely personal experience, often featuring face-to-face interaction between buyer and seller, with standard test-drives and tours. Salespeople would persuade individuals into buying the car they saw best-fit, and the process, from initial conversation to a final handshake, commonly took hours.

The industry was one of those that suffered the most from the pandemic because it was still in a recovery phase from the 2008 recession. The pandemic has disrupted supply chains, including international ones.​ ​The recent decline in sales hit the industry hard, as sales in the United States have not majorly increased in five years. Therefore, experts around the world claim many automotive factories will close. Mass layoffs will follow these closures, and the unemployment increase has the potential to affect the economy.

With a national pandemic still rampant, many have turned to purchase cars online to minimize interpersonal contact. The previously small market has rapidly expanded and developed. The online market has enabled individuals to condense the experience by allowing research, car history reports, and applying for financing to be done online. Individuals can make appointments to test-drive vehicles online and even get an appraisal with the click of a button. Buying a car online has never been easier! Some even prefer the simple, transactional experience, to dealing with salespeople and the commonly elongated conversation.

There are considerations to make when buying a car online. Interested individuals should be certain to request car records and history reports and only purchase from reputable sites. It is also important to stay safe by searching for a company’s sanitation policy.

Timing is a big thing to consider when purchasing a car. Interestingly, now may be a perfect time! Are you fearful of transmission rates on public transportation? We hear you! Additionally, cars are generally priced at the lower-end now due to a slow in profit for the industry at-a-large, and interest rates are historically low. With so many online options available for the car-buying process, don’t let the pandemic stop you from making your next great buy.

Overall, the pandemic’s effects on the auto industry have not all been negative ones. The industry has adapted to provide more options for buying opportunities so that jeopardizing one’s health is not a factor. Who knows? Maybe your next great purchase will be executed from your laptop!

Here’s What to Tell Your Teens When They Take the Wheel

Depending on the state, your teen is probably going to aim for a license around age 16. Watching a child drive a car on their own is a scary thing for any parent, as it signals independence and freedom. Once your child attains a license, though, they may think nothing can harm them. Here is a list of top ten tips to know for new drivers.

  1. Flat Tires: It is important to remind your teen that their car is not invincible. A flat tire is simply part of car ownership. Make sure your teen has an emergency phone number to call, and a tire-replacement knowledge, once they have pulled over.
  2. Accidents: Unfortunately, collisions happen frequently, and new drivers should be aware of the ways to deal with an auto collision if it does occur. Creating an emergency action plan will keep drivers equipped to handle an accident if it should happen.
  3. Cell Phones: Though it should be rudimental and explicit, remind your teen of the dangers of texting while driving. Make sure they know to keep their hands and eyes on the wheel at all times rather than on their cell phone.
  4. Dashboard warning lights: There are many diverse symbols on every dashboard. Your teen should know which lights are more important, such as an engine overheat. Warning lights such as tire pressure may be less urgent.
  5. Different driving conditions: New drivers should know how to drive at night, in the rain, and if in a colder climate, in the snow.
  6. Impaired drivers: Education is key when teaching your teen about impaired drivers. Be sure your teen understands how important it is to not allow a friend to drive impaired or to accept a ride from an intoxicated driver.
  7. Police Officers and Emergency Vehicles: Teens should recognize to pull over if they see flashing lights in their rear-view mirrors. Make sure the car is equipped with valid insurance and licensure, and that the teen is aware to find such items. Additionally, be sure your teen knows to move aside for emergency vehicles.
  8. Repair Shops: All drivers should know how to locate a nearby repair shop just in case something goes wrong.
  9. Aggressive Drivers: Some drivers get angry when they get cut-off or miss a light, but expressing that anger while driving is extremely dangerous. Staying calm in all situations when driving can increase the safety of the drive tremendously.
  10. Getting a new car: Parents are usually involved when teens get their first cars, but they will need to know how to go about buying or leasing new cars down the road. Parents can include drivers in the buying process, so they may be more aware when they need to purchase a vehicle on their own.

Following the above tips ensures your driver will be ready for all situations they may face on the road ahead.

Electrically Rebuilding the Auto Industry

Domestic automakers have already faced an extreme loss of sales in 2020, largely due to COVID-19 and its impact on production. Now, the auto industry has greatly reduced the number of staff members working in factories to ensure the safety of workers, and the number of workers may never climb to the height which it was before the pandemic. The auto industry must come up with a solution to build itself back up.

Notably, the pandemic has worked well for the environment. Surface vehicle emission numbers have decreased by over 20-percent. In order to create jobs and keep harmful emissions numbers down, many professionals in the auto industry are turning to the possibility of producing more electric vehicles.

Currently, even the most affordable electric cars are expensive, costing over $30,000 and can be driven around 120 miles on a single charge. The Green-Car New Deal would focus public investment on creating better, cheaper batteries. The infrastructure of vehicles has been left to the private sector, but they all require some sort of charging device.

The deal would support the placement of chargers in practical locations, making it easier for EV owners to charge up if needed. One of the first steps in the plan calls for making the United States Postal Service’s fleet electric. The deal also pushes the financial support of automakers willing to build electric vehicles. The deal aims to help the United States both economically and environmentally following the trying times of the pandemic.