Two Spot robots from RBR50 company Boston Dynamics will soon help Ford survey its Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. Starting in August, the Spot robots, which Ford nicknamed Fluffy and Spot, will scan the plant floor and assist engineers in updating the original CAD model of the plant, which is used when Ford updates the facility.
The Spot robots are equipped with five cameras, can perform 360-degree camera scans, handle 30-degree grades, climb stairs, and travel up to 3 MPH on a two-hour battery life. Up until this point, Ford has mapped its facilities manually. A couple of employees would walk the facility with a tripod, stop at different locations and wait five minutes for the laser to scan. Ford said scanning one plant could take up to two weeks and cost $300,000, which is seems astonishingly expensive.
“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 wants to eventually tele-operate the Spot robots, but for now the robots can be programmed to follow a specific path and can be operated from up to 50 meters away with the out-of-the-box tablet application. Ford is leasing the Spot robots, which typically cost $74,500 to buy upfront. If the pilot at the Van Dyke plant goes well, Ford could roll the quadruped robots out to other facilities, too.
“Fluffy is an amazing manufacturing tool,” said Paula Weibelhaus, one of the Ford employees who is operating the Spot Robots. “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 roll over. We want to push him to the limits in the manufacturing plant and see what value he has for the company.”
The Spot robots are getting some additional help from an autonomous mobile robot (AMR) Ford has dubbed Scouter. Ford said a Spot robot can ride on the AMR to conserve battery. Scouter can autonomously navigate facilities while scanning and capturing 3D point clouds to generate a CAD of the facility. If an area is too tight for Scouter, the quadruped can step in.
In June 2019, 9 months after the limited release of its Spot, Boston Dynamics made the quadruped robot commercially available from its online store. This was a milestone for the quadruped robotics market, as four-legged robots have typically been relegated to research labs.