Ford Motor Company’s Self Driving Robots Making Lives Easier for Workers and Consumers

Schwab Industries Blog

After fully electric vehicles, you’ve heard self-driving cars are the next innovation in automotive technology. But self-driving robots on factory floors? And two-legged self-driving robots delivering packages? In self-driving vehicles!?

The future is now. The first, a self-driving robot working in Ford’s state-of-the-art stamping facility in Valencia, Spain, is a reality. The others are close behind.

Ford’s “self-driving” robot, delivering parts and avoiding collisions in Ford’s stamping plant in Valencia, Spain is nicknamed “’Survival’… because of its ability to adapt to its environment.” The robot delivers parts around the factory efficiently and effectively, and according to Ford, Survival frees up to 40 man-hours per week of time for Ford’s employees to tackle more complex tasks more suited to human beings.

While the little robot is programmed to know the plant’s layout, it can adapt to its surroundings and modify its pathfinding to avoid obstacles and employees and become more efficient as needed. It uses state-of-the-art sensors to detect impediments and hurdles and adjusts accordingly.

Ford says it is the first of its kind to be used in any of its facilities.

“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 state-of-the-art body and stamping plant in Valencia, Spain, where the robot is being trialed. “When it first started you could see employees thinking they were in some kind of sci-fi movie, stopping and starting as it went by. Now they just get on with their jobs knowing the robot is smart enough to work around them.”

A video of the little guy can be viewed here, and he’s pretty cute, if we don’t say so ourselves.

Ford is also working on a more human-looking robot that walks on two legs. It’s hoped the robot will eventually deliver packages to doorsteps in self-driving vehicles, completely automating the back end of the home package delivery process.

Ford has partnered with Agility Robotics of Albany Oregon, to create the package delivery robot, this time named “Digit.” Ford hopes the robot will someday “make deliveries more convenient and efficient.”

“Since self-driving vehicles can potentially move people and goods simultaneously, they hold great potential to make deliveries even more convenient and efficient,” wrote Dr. Ken Washington, Vice President, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, and Chief Technology Officer. “A ride-hailing trip could double as a delivery service, dropping off packages in between transporting passengers. And as we’ve learned in our pilot programs, it’s not always convenient for people to leave their homes to retrieve deliveries or for businesses to run their own delivery services. If we can free people up to focus less on the logistics of making deliveries, they can turn their time and effort to things that really need their attention.”

The prototype, designed by Agility Robotics to specifically look like a human, can lift packages that weigh up to 40 pounds. Ford also says it can walk up and down stairs, “naturally” navigate uneven terrain, and be bumped and jostled without falling over.

The robot is designed to work seamlessly with Ford’s fully autonomous vehicles, folding up and entering and exiting the vehicle all by itself. Both the vehicle and robot will communicate with one another, sharing data of the surroundings, reducing the computing power needed and reducing data overlap.

A slick video of the robot, delivering packages to a suburban household and produced by Ford can be seen here.

“Whether we are working side-by-side with robots in our numerous factories around the world or living with them as they help push packages to our door, our primary goal is to ensure they are safe, reliable and capable of working alongside people in intelligent ways,” wrote Dr. Washington.

Here at Schwab, we believe the future is bright, and are ready to tackle the challenges of a rapidly changing world, including automation. We’re proud to be a part of the future, while maintaining old-world standards of quality, workmanship, and personal relationships.

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