Self-driving robot deployed at Ford

Friday, 14 June, 2019

Self-driving robot deployed at Ford

A self-driving robot, developed by Ford engineers, has been put to work delivering spare parts around one of the company’s manufacturing plants.

The robot was nicknamed Survival because of its ability to adapt to its environment, dodging unforeseen objects, changing its route if obstructed and stopping whenever necessary. It uses LiDAR technology to visualise its surroundings — a technology also used in Ford’s prototype autonomous vehicles.

“We programmed it to learn the whole of the plant floor so, together with sensors, it doesn’t need any external guides to navigate,” said Eduardo García Magraner, Engineering Manager at Ford’s body and stamping plant in Valencia, Spain, where the robot is being trialled.

Delivering spare parts and welding material to different stations around the plant is a crucial element in keeping production going. For Ford workers though, the task is time-consuming and relatively mundane. The robot does not replace employees but can save up to 40 employee hours every day by taking over this role, allowing operators to use their time on more complex tasks.

“When it first started you could see employees thinking they were in some kind of sci-fi movie, stopping and staring as it went by,” said García Magraner. “Now they just get on with their jobs knowing the robot is smart enough to work around them.”

The robot is equipped with an automated shelf that has 17 slots to hold materials of different weights and sizes. To avoid errors, the opening and closing of these slots is automated, meaning operators in each area only have access to the materials assigned to them.

Survival is one of a number of smart robots employed in Ford’s European facilities, including the Robutt and co-bots in Cologne, Germany, but it is the first of its kind to be used in any of the company’s European facilities.

“It’s been on trial for almost a year now and has performed faultlessly to date; it’s become quite a valuable team member,” said García Magraner. “Hopefully we can put it into full-time use shortly and expand into other Ford facilities.”

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