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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Honda is working with Verizon on self-driving cars technology.

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co. Inc.

The Mcity campus was designed to be a proving ground for new technologies. Honda and Verizon are utilizing it as such as they partner to explore how Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband and 5G Mobile Edge Compute (MEC) can be used to ensure quick and reliable communication between road infrastructure, vehicles, and pedestrians.

The 5G technology leverages cloud technology to deliver lower latency, a large amount of bandwidth, and improved communication. This communication includes the way that vehicles interact with ther cars, traffic lights, pedestrians and emergency vehicles to improve threat detection and avoid accidents when seconds matter most. That's where the "V2" in acronyms like "V2V" (vehicle-to-vehicle) and "V2X" (vehicle- to-everything).

Honda and Verizon Test How 5G Enhances Safety for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles www.youtube.com

Honda has been working since 2017 to develop a technology that will help to create a collision-free society. The technology, called Safe Swarm, uses V2X communication to enable vehicles to communicate with other road users and share key information such as location, speed, and vehicle sensor data.

There are some obstacles, not the least of which is the need to outfit each vehicle with onboard artificial intelligence capabilities. The use of 5G helps move the AI capabilities from the vehicle to the MEC, reducing the need for AI onboard each vehicle.

"The ability to move computing power to the edge of our 5G network is an essential building block for autonomous and connected vehicles, helping cars to communicate with each other in near real-time and with sensors and cameras installed in streets and traffic lights," said Sanyogita Shamsunder, vice president of Technology Development and 5G Labs at Verizon. "When you consider that roughly 42,000 people were killed in car accidents last year and 94% of accidents are caused by human error, our new technologies including 5G and MEC can help drivers 'see' things before the human eye can register and react helping to prevent collisions and save lives."

Three safety scenarios have been explored as part of the testing:

  • Pedestrian Scenario - A pedestrian is crossing a street at an intersection. An approaching driver cannot see the pedestrian due to a building obstructing the view. Smart cameras mounted in the intersection relay information to MEC using the 5G network. Verizon's MEC and V2X software platforms detect the pedestrian and vehicle and determine the precise location of road users assisted by Verizon's Hyper Precise Location services. A visual warning message is then sent alerting the driver of the potential danger.
  • Emergency Vehicle Warning Scenari - A driver cannot see an approaching emergency vehicle and cannot hear its siren due to the high volume of in-vehicle audio. Verizon's MEC and V2X software receive a safety message from the emergency vehicle and send a warning message to nearby vehicles. The driver receives a visual warning.
  • Red Light Runner Scenario - A vehicle fails to stop at a red light. Using data from the smart cameras, MEC and V2X software detect the vehicle and send a red-light-runner visual warning message to other vehicles approaching the intersection.

You can watch the video of Honda and Verizon's Mcity tests at http://honda.us/5GResearch.

Honda isn't the only company exploring what 5G communication can offer. Pirelli has installed the tech in its tires and BMW recently updated its My BMW app to make it compatible with the new technology. Audi is working on similar technology out on the road in Virginia and Georgia.

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Ford dealerships will be adding Bronco showrooms to their portfolio in the coming year.

Photo courtesy of Ford via Automotive News

Reporting by Automotive News reveals that Ford is enabling its dealership network to opt-in to build Bronco-specific showrooms. The stores are designed to be near or connected to existing Ford dealer locations, but will feature the Bronco horse logo rather than the traditional Ford Blue Oval.

Ford currently has two Bronco models: Bronco and Bronco Sport. All this for two models? Not quite. Ford is reportedly working on a Bronco-based pickup truck. Could it be Ranger Raptor-like? We'll have to wait and see.

Renderings of Bronco storefronts feature those models and vintage versions of the beloved off-roader alongside 3,800 square feet of building space that includes an outdoor fire pit and room to display three vehicles. There's also a wall that showcases Bronco merchandise including some of the over 200 accessories Ford is promising will be available for Bronco models.

Ford Bronco standalone showroom renderings

Photo courtesy of Ford via Automotive News

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The overall aesthetic is very much in line with what you'll see at your local REI. There's back-painted ceiling lining, exposed concrete, a gray stone entryway, and wood accents throughout the modern structure as well as plenty of windows that show it all off.

Dealers are able to modify the design that Ford has come up with. One dealer, in Arizona, told Automotive News that he is planning to build out a 12,000-square-foot space but hasn't included a fire pit in the plans because of the location's desert climate.

If dealerships don't opt for a separate showroom, dealerships can choose from other Ford-backed options to display the Bronco that are more traditional in nature. Andrew Frick, the head of Ford sales in the U.S. said that there are three options: a standalone showroom, an expansion of existing showrooms or displays that can be added to a showroom. All the options are available and recommended, but not required, kind of like the Sasquatch Package on the Bronco itself.

"It's an announcement to the world we're back; the Bronco is back," Tim Hovik, owner of San Tan Ford in Gilbert, Ariz., and chairman of Ford's national dealer council, told Automotive News. "It's such an iconic product that in an absolute way, we feel a Ford dealer is really adding almost an additional franchise."

Last month, Ford revealed that of its 190,000 reservations for either the two- or four-door Bronco, two-thirds of those have turned into firm orders. Deliveries of the redesigned Bronco are slated to begin in June. Early models are already making their way out onto the streets under the car of Ford employees.

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