Ford deploys Boston Dynamics’ Spot robots to survey Michigan plant

The dog-like robots will help with scanning the plant ahead of a redesign.
Ann Smajstrla
A. Smajstrla|07.27.20

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Ann Smajstrla
July 27, 2020 3:33 PM
Paula Wiebelhaus, Fluffy’s handler, navigates Fluffy, the dog-like robot through tough-to-reach areas within the plant. Ford is tapping four-legged robots at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant in early August to laser scan the plant, helping engineers update the original computer-aided design.

A Ford plant in Michigan has enlisted two Boston Dynamics robots to aid in laser scanning the plant as it’s prepped for updates, Ford announced yesterday. The robots, nicknamed Fluffy and Spot, will roam the Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Dearborn, MI on four legs, much like a dog would. However, unlike their furry counterparts, these robots are equipped with five cameras, can perform 360-degree scans and are able to climb stairs for hours.

Ford is leasing the Boston Dynamics Spot robots (although you can buy them for $75,000) and deploying them in early August. Fluffy and Spot will scan the plant so engineers have an updated model of what the floor looks like, as changes have been made over the years that may not have been documented, said Mark Goderis, Ford’s digital engineering manager. The bots can be programmed to follow a specific path, have different gaits for various terrain and can right themselves if they fall.

Before the bots, the plant redesigning process took longer and was more expensive. “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’s bots currently have a handler, but the plan is for them to eventually be controlled remotely. And if they do well at the Van Dyke Transmission Plant, Ford may deploy Spot robots to more facilities around the country.

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