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.