They aren’t very good at keeping your home safe, and they wouldn’t be great to cuddle with, but Fluffy and Spot – the mechanical dogs now prowling the halls at Ford’s Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Michigan – are still earning their stripes as man’s best friend by mapping the facility.
The robots are currently on lease to Ford from groundbreaking robotics firm Boston Dynamics. Each dog is equipped with five different cameras that can laser scan their surroundings in 360 degrees. The robots can be controlled from up to 164 feet away, although the company has plans to develop remote apps that will be able to give remote control to users regardless of where they are located on the globe.
They can each reach a top speed of about three miles per hour, climb stairs with a tilt of no more than 30 degrees, and last about two hours on a single charge. Because of that limited battery life, the candroids (Get it? Canine droids?), sometimes hitch a ride on another robot called Scouter, which helps them conserve power. But Fluffy and Scout can get into tighter places than Scouter, making them perfectly suited to their mapping mission.
By getting accurate laser scans of the plant, Ford can make decisions about reconfiguring the facility when new projects come along. The dogs are slashing the typical $300,000 cost of a scanning project like this dramatically. They are also saving time.
“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,” said Mark Goderis, digital engineering manager at Ford. “Scanning one plant could take two weeks. With Fluffy’s help, we are able to do it in half the time.”
Going to the Dogs
In addition to helping Ford out, Boston Robotics has dispatched other Spots (that is the official model name) to locations around the world. In Norway, an oil company is using it to identify potential gas leaks. In New Zealand, they are herding sheep and monitoring crops. In Boston, they’ve been outfitted with iPads to allow remote communications between doctors and patients at a hospital. And in Singapore, they patrol public parks and help to enforce social distancing by roaming around and playing recorded messages.