Robotics

Ford testing Boston Dynamics robodogs at Michigan plant

Robot shaped like dogs are being used by Ford to replace humans for certain tasks.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Fluffy and Spot are bringing their four-legged athleticism and efficiency to Ford's Van Dyke Transmission Plant in a move that could end up saving money and speed up the turnaround time between the production of various models.

In addition to sitting, shaking hands, and rolling over, the 70-pound dog-shaped robots, whom their handler Paula Wiebelhaus named, are able to perform 360-degree camera scans, handling 30-degree grades, and climb for hours at a time. As workers, they are unmatched by humans at these tasks.

Ford Boston Dynamics robot dogs Their agility allows them to climb steep stairs.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford is leasing the bright yellow robots as part of a program aimed at reducing cost and increasing efficiency at the company's plants.

The duo are each equipped with five cameras and can travel up to 3 mph. Their battery life is nearly two hours.

Ford has established a roster of activities for them to accomplish. The robots will be used to scan the plant floor and assist engineers in updating the original Computer Aided Design, which is utilized when Ford is getting ready to retool their plants.

"We design and build the plant. After that, over the years, changes are made that rarely get documented," said Mark Goderis, Ford's digital engineering manager. "By having the robots scan our facility, we can see what it actually looks like now and build a new engineering model. That digital model is then used when we need to retool the plant for new products."

Ford Boston Dynamics robot dogs The robots are designed to avoid collisions with other objects, including people.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Typically, this process is arduous, time consuming, and expensive. It costs nearly $300,000 to scan one facility. Should Fluffy and Spot prove competent, the scanning process could be done for a fraction of the cost.

"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. "Scanning one plant could take two weeks. With Fluffy's help, we are able to do it in half the time."

Ford Boston Dynamics robot dogs Unlike real dogs, the models require no pets, but they do need plenty of time to recharge their batteries after a long day at work.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Currently, the robots can be programmed to follow a specific path and are able to be operated from up to 50 meters away with a tablet application. Eventually, Ford expects that the company will be able to operate the robots remotely, programming them for plant missions and receiving reports from anywhere in the country.

For now, Wiebelhaus will control the robots and is able to see the footage that their cameras are picking up. Should it be necessary to immediately shut down the robots, Wiebelhaus is able to do so so via the app.

Meet Fluffy the Robot Dog | Innovation | Ford youtu.be

Just as dogs can walk on stable ground, uneven terrain, and stairs, so can the robots. The machines can also change from a crouch to a stretch. If they fall, they are designed to right themselves. The robots are also programmed to maintain safe distancing from objects and people to avoid collisions and interference.

Fluffy isn't just relying on its legs to roam around. According to Ford, “At times, Fluffy sits on its robotic haunches and rides on the back of a small, round Autonomous Mobile Robot, known informally as Scouter. Scouter glides smoothly up and down the aisles of the plant, allowing Fluffy to conserve battery power until it's time to get to work. Scouter 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."

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Biden will target 50 percent of all vehicle sales for EVs by 2030.

Ford

In the last several months, we've seen automakers from all corners of the globe commit to some degree of electrification by the end of the decade and beyond. That includes the American Big Three: Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Stellantis (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, others). Today, President Joe Biden plans to throw his weight behind these efforts by signing an executive order that sets a goal of pushing the sales of zero-emissions vehicles to half of all vehicle sales in the U.S. by 2030.

Biden's target is not legally binding, but the industry is already jumping on board. In a joint statement, Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis confirmed that they aim to hit an EV sales volume of 40-50 percent annually. It's worth noting that the President's 50 percent goal and the automakers' sales targets also include plug-in hybrid vehicles, which still use a traditional gasoline engine.


Jeep PHEV The target also includes plug-in hybrid vehicles, which still use gas engines.Jeep


Auto unions and dealers are not opposed to the ambitious roadmaps laid out by the Big Three, but both have differing views on what is essential and how things will ultimately play out. While aware of the goals, the UAW is focused on wage growth and the preservation of jobs and benefits. It feels that an increase in EV production volume must happen here in the U.S. to include good-paying American union jobs.

Dealers, to a degree, are supportive of the goals but skeptical of their ultimate success. Some feel that electric vehicles do not present the earth-shattering shift in functionality and usability that other new products, such as smartphones, did in different industries. Regardless of concerns and skepticism, it appears that automakers are going all-in on the shift to electrification, so we're bound to see a wealth of new battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in the next few years.


GM battery facility rendering Automakers are pledging billions to increase EV and PHEV production volume.GM

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Research and development

Ford names site for battery development facility

Ford's new facility will house battery research and development.

Ford

Ford is in the news again for its electrification efforts, this time with the confirmation of a Michigan location for a new battery research and development facility in Romulus, Michigan. The facility may eventually help Ford in-source much of its EV supply chain, a shift that could prevent or mitigate the challenges presented by parts and technology shortages.

As part of its electrification initiative, the automaker plans to build a new research and development facility, called Ford Ion Park. The facility will house new tech research, pilot programs for new manufacturing techniques, and will help give Ford more control over its supply chain.


Ford Ion Park Once complete, the facility will initially house 200 engineers.Ford


The price tag for the new facility and related efforts lands at $185 million, which sounds like chump change for a global automaker until we consider that Ford has committed $30 billion to electrification by 2025. The automaker says that its new facility renews its dedication to Michigan as its home base for EV development, a promise it originally made back in 2010. The company's new electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck will be built in Dearborn, which will add 500 jobs. An additional 225 jobs will be retained at Ford's Dyke Electric Powertrain Center.

As part of Phase One of the project, Ford plans to hire 200 engineers within 18 months of the 270,000-square-foot facility's opening. Ironically, the site was previously owned by A123 Systems, a battery manufacturer that closed the facility in 2017 due to low demand for batteries.


Ford Ion Park Ford has committed $185 million to the new facility and related efforts.Ford

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