Robotics

Ford is using a smart, self-driving factory robot to free up employee time

Ford is using a smart, self-dr...
Ford's Survival robot uses LiDAR to get around
Ford's Survival robot uses LiDAR to get around
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Ford's Survival robot uses LiDAR to get around
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Ford's Survival robot uses LiDAR to get around
The self-driving Survival robot can detect obstacles and remember them in the future
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The self-driving Survival robot can detect obstacles and remember them in the future
Ford says the Survival bot frees up 40 hours of employee time a day
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Ford says the Survival bot frees up 40 hours of employee time a day

As work on self-driving cars continues, Ford is making use of a new self-driving factory robot that can deliver parts quickly and efficiently, modify its routes based on obstacles in its path, and free up about 40 hours of time per day for employees to get on with other tasks.

This particular self-driving robot – the first of its kind to be used at a Ford facility in Europe – is nicknamed "Survival" because of the way it can adapt to its environment. If it finds something blocking its path on one journey, it'll change its route the next time it travels along that path.

The Survival robot has been entirely designed and built by Ford engineers, and one of its smartest tricks is being able to operate without any special set up in the factory itself: the droid simply learns as it goes.

"We programmed it to learn the whole of the plant floor so, together with sensors, it doesn't need any external guides to navigate," says Ford engineering manager Eduardo García Magraner.

"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. Now they just get on with their jobs knowing the robot is smart enough to work around them."

The self-driving Survival robot can detect obstacles and remember them in the future
The self-driving Survival robot can detect obstacles and remember them in the future

The robot is currently undergoing a trial run at the Ford body and stamping plant in Valencia in Spain, where Kuga, Mondeo and S-Max cars are produced. It's tasked with delivering spare parts and welding material to different areas of the plant – a rather tedious task for a human, but no sweat for a robot.

Like Ford's prototype self-driving road vehicles, the robot makes use of LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology to detect what's around it via laser pulses.

Thanks to an automated shelf featuring 17 different slots, the Survival bot can deliver particular parts to particular operators, with each employee only having access to a certain section of the robot's catalog of items.

And Ford says Survival isn't intended to replace staff, just make their days a little more interesting. The self-driving robot gives time back to employees, time they can use for more complex tasks around the factory.

"It's been on trial for almost a year now and has performed faultlessly to-date," says Garcia Magraner. "It's become quite a valuable team member. Hopefully we can put it into full-time use shortly and expand into other Ford facilities."

Source: Ford

6 comments
piperTom
"Ford says Survival isn't intended to replace staff"! Ha, ha, haha. Ford isn't fooling anybody. Everyone will know it's a (human) staff reduction, even if only by attrition. And "Survival" is a bad name; it will tempt employees to test the fitness of the name. I'd suggest "Timid Obeyer" and, if it talks, have it call everybody Lord/Lady.
Oliver McCloud
"Free up employee time" is a funny way to say "replace people with robots." Come on now, David Nield, no one is that stupid. If a robot can "free up about 40 hours of time per day" then assuming demand for the product remains constant (no reason it would change) that means one less employee per robot. That's the ultimate result. It's ok - it's inevitable - but don't pretend that's not where this ultimately goes.
Martin Hone
Totally agree. I like your positive spin "freeing up employee time" but just think what it really means......
Wolf0579
After having my intelligence insulted with the title of the piece, I'm not going to bother to read it. The title says it all... or rather it doesn't say it at all.
ljaques
That robot is obviously in Mexico, given the labels being printed en Español. Canadians and Americans evidently still have their jobs.
WolfeSA
Funnily enough this is running pretty much according to Marx's theory on how capitalism would advance. He predicted that the unending pursuit of efficiency to increase profit would always entail exploring new ways to reduce costs. And that there would be no end to it. Therefore the robot replacement of human labour will continue until regulated against. Failing that we had better come up with innovative unemployment income! :-0