Ford is going to employ two of Boston Dynamics’ “Spot” robots, which are four-legged, dog-like walking robots that weigh roughly 70 lbs each, to help them update the original engineering plans for one of the transmission manufacturing plants. The plants, Ford explains, have undergone any number of changes since their original construction, and it’s difficult to know if the plans they have match up with the reality of the plants as they exist today. The Spot mobile lidar robots, with their laser scanning and imaging capabilities, will be able to produce highly detailed and accurate maps that Ford engineers can then use to modernize and retool the facility.
There are a few benefits that Ford hopes to realize by employing the Spot robots in place of humans to map the facility: First, they should save a considerable amount of time, as they replace a time-intensive process of setting up a tripod with a laser scanner at various points throughout the facility and spending a while at each location manually capturing the environment. The Spot dogs are roving and scanning continuously, providing a reduction of up to 50% in terms of actual time to complete the facility scan.
The robot dogs are also equipped with five cameras as well as laser scanners and can operate for up to two hours travelling at around 3 mph continuously. The data they collect can then be synthesized for a more complete overall picture, and because of their small size and nimble navigation capabilities, they can map areas of the plant that aren’t necessarily reachable by people attempting to do the same job.
This is a pilot program that Ford is conducting, using two Spot robots leased from Boston Dynamics. But if it works out the way they seem to think it will, you can imagine that the automaker might seek to expand the program to cover other efforts at more of its manufacturing facilities.