July 27, 2020 / 7:01 PM / 11 days ago

Engineer's best friend: How a dog-like robot is helping Ford retool plants

July 27 (Reuters) - It runs, walks, and prances, rhythmically tapping its four feet before it sinks down on its haunches and crouches.

Despite its name, Fluffy has no fur. But the bright yellow robot, leased by Ford Motor Co from Boston Dynamics Inc, can fetch pictures and videos of a car factory with its five 'eyes' to help engineers design upgrades for workspaces.

With an accurate camera scan, "we can build those pieces within the workstation, and we can see if there's any interferences or if everything new is going to fit," said Mark Goderis, Ford's advanced manufacturing center digital engineering manager.

Fluffy, controlled by an engineer with a handheld device, can travel up to 3 miles per hour (4.8 kph) for about two hours on its battery.

Fluffy can also ride 'Scouter,' a small round robot, through a factory to save power, while the two companions gather data. Wherever Scouter cannot glide into, Fluffy can fill in the gaps.

The automaker is testing the robots at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Michigan. The robots' scans cost a fraction of the $300,000 needed for engineers to walk over millions of square feet in a factory to set up cameras on a tripod, Ford said in a statement.

But the new engineers are just helpers, Goderis said.

"Our goal isn't to displace any of the workforce," he said, but "automating our processes and making the engineers and people that work for our company more efficient and effective in building quality products."

Boston does not provide lease terms but Fluffy's robot model, named 'Spot,' can be purchased for $74,500.

Produced by Reuters TV; Writing by Richard Chang; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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