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 dogsTheir 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 dogsThe 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 dogsUnlike 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 | Fordyoutu.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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The IIHS may increase the speeds it uses to test advanced driver aids.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently announced that it is considering changing the speeds it uses to test vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention systems. The agency currently tests the systems at 12 and 25 mph, but says that the speeds don't accurately represent the types of crashes the safety tech is meant to prevent.

Front crash preventionwww.youtube.com

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is designed to notify of a possible collision and help respond with automatic application of braking. Just like a human using the brake pedal, it can stop the car, but higher speeds make it difficult to stop in time. The new tests would be conducted at 35 to 45 mph, which is the range where a large number of rear-end crashes occur. As Automotive News noted, an IIHS study showed 43 percent of rear-end crashes occur at speeds of 45 mph or less, so it's important to have a test that shows how well the tech performs at those levels.

A whopping 85 percent of 2022 vehicles earned a "Superior" rating in the current testing regime, so the IIHS will remove it from 2023 testing and Top Safety Pick award evaluations. Their view is that, since the majority of vehicles meet the criteria, it's no longer an accurate way of evaluating performance. In its place, the agency introduced a night test for automatic emergency braking systems that will begin next year.

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Lincoln will not make a performance variant to compete with Cadillac.

Lincoln

TheLincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade have been duking it out at the top of luxury SUV rankings for decades, but there’s one area of the Caddy’s development that Lincoln won’t touch. In a recent interview, a company executive told Ford Authority that it has no plans to create a performance variant of the Navigator to compete with the upcoming Escalade V from Cadillac.

2022 Lincoln NavigatorThe new Navigator features several upscale touches and excellent tech. Lincoln

That means the Navigator will stick with the powertrain it’s carried for years, which is a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine that makes 440 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a smooth ten-speed automatic and either rear- or four-wheel drive. While there’s more than enough power to get the hulking Lincoln moving, it’s not a powertrain that inspires excitement or engagement, and though beefy, it’s tuned much more for comfort and quietness than drama.

Though more than adequate, those specs are a far cry from the numbers we expect from the Escalade V. The full-size bruiser from Cadillac is expected to get a supercharged 6.2-liter V8, similar to the unit seen in the CT5-V Blackwing and Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. We don’t know power numbers yet, but the engine should deliver horsepower and torque numbers in the high 600s.

Cadillac Escalade VThe Escalade V will be massively powerful. Cadillac

That Lincoln is taking a different approach isn’t surprising. The automaker has already announced its intention to go all-electric, so pouring more time and resources into creating a performance gas-powered SUV isn’t in line with its goals. Company executives have also expressed a desire to avoid imitating rivals, so the decision to leave a performance Navigator behind is not surprising.

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