Emerging Technologies

How a robot called Fluffy is helping Ford engineers upgrade factories

DEARBORN, MI. July 27, 2020 – Fluffy looks at Scouter, an Autonomous Mobile Robot that can autonomously navigate facilities while scanning and capturing 3-D point clouds to generate a CAD of the facility. If an area is too tight for Scouter, Fluffy comes to the rescue. Ford is tapping four-legged robots at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant in early August to laser scan the plant, helping engineers update the original computer-aided design. These robots can be deployed into tough-to-reach areas within the plant to scan the area with laser scanners and high-definition cameras, collecting data used to retool plants, saving Ford engineers time and money. Ford is leasing two robots, nicknamed Fluffy and Spot, from Boston Dynamics – a company known for building sophisticated mobile robots.

Fluffy can travel up to 3 miles per hour (4.8 kph) for about two hours on its battery. Image: Ford Motor Company

Richard Chang
Correspondent, Reuters
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  • Ford has introduced a robot to to help map factory floors and design upgrades for workspaces.
  • The dog-shaped robot is known as Fluffy.

It runs, walks, and prances, rhythmically tapping its four feet before it sinks down on its haunches and crouches.

Despite its name, Fluffy has no fur. But the bright yellow robot, leased by Ford Motor Co from Boston Dynamics Inc, can fetch pictures and videos of a car factory with its five ‘eyes’ to help engineers design upgrades for workspaces.

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With an accurate camera scan, “we can build those pieces within the workstation, and we can see if there’s any interferences or if everything new is going to fit,” said Mark Goderis, Ford’s advanced manufacturing center digital engineering manager.

Fluffy, controlled by an engineer with a handheld device, can travel up to 3 miles per hour (4.8 kph) for about two hours on its battery.

Fluffy can also ride ‘Scouter,’ a small round robot, through a factory to save power, while the two companions gather data. Wherever Scouter cannot glide into, Fluffy can fill in the gaps.

The automaker is testing the robots at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Michigan. The robots’ scans cost a fraction of the $300,000 needed for engineers to walk over millions of square feet in a factory to set up cameras on a tripod, Ford said in a statement.

But the new engineers are just helpers, Goderis said.

“Our goal isn’t to displace any of the workforce,” he said, but “automating our processes and making the engineers and people that work for our company more efficient and effective in building quality products.”

Boston does not provide lease terms but Fluffy’s robot model, named ‘Spot,’ can be purchased for $74,500.

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Related topics:
Emerging TechnologiesFourth Industrial Revolution
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