This August workers at Ford’s Michigan Van Dyke Transmission plant are seeing two four legged robots, Spot and Fluffy, walk around the plant sniffing with their laser at all objects like high-tech dogs.
The robots have been designed and produced by Boston Dynamics and are now on the market for 74,500$ (for the time being only US customers can buy them…). Fluffy and Scout are dog-like autonomous creatures but, as real dogs, they can be trained and guided by a human to direct their activities. In the Ford case, they have been enrolled to move around the plant and document the position of all objects, so it is more than creating an inventory, it is about capturing the lay of the land. The plant was, of course, laid out based on a design but over the years it has changed significantly. People moved a little piece one day, another the following day and after a while, the plant has changed significantly. The two robo-dogs will explore every part of the plant, scanning it with a laser placed on their back and update the layout. They are small and nimble and can reach most parts of the plant, like a dog would do.
They will be assisted by Scouter, a taller autonomous robot that will cooperate with them, being able to reach and look onto shelves and take 3D pictures.
Fluffy and Scout can walk over a flight of stairs, just like a dog, including industrial type stairs in the Transmission Plant, something that other robots already roaming the plant cannot do.
Interestingly, these robo-dogs can learn from their wandering and create a map of the plant for themselves and can become “aware” of places they have missed. They can move at about 3 miles per hour and slow down if needed, adapting their gait to the situation.
According to Boston Dynamics can be used to inspect dangerous areas in both supervised and unsupervised way. In April they started service at Boston hospital to check on Covid-19 patients, for disinfection and in general to decrease contagion risk among healthcare workers.
The software will be released in open source format to allow third parties to develop other applications thus increasing the flexibility and applicastion fields.