Ford's 'Survival' robot delivers parts to keep production going around company's plant
Ford is actively working on autonomous vehicles, but the company has thrown its hat into the robotics arena with the introduction of its self‑driving robot, nicknamed ‘Survival.’
Developed entirely by Ford engineers, Survival earned its nickname because of its ability to adapt to its environment. It can dodge unforeseen objects, change its route if obstructed, and stop whenever necessary.
Survival is currently being tested in one of Ford’s manufacturing plants in Europe, delivering spare parts around the plant. The company notes that it is the first of its kind to be used in a Ford facility in Europe.
“We programmed it to learn the whole of the plant floor so, together with sensors, it doesn’t need any external guides to navigate,” explains Eduardo García Magraner, engineering manager at Ford’s body and stamping plant in Valencia, Spain, where the robot is being tested.
“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.”
According to Ford, delivering spare parts and welding material to different stations around the plant is a crucial element in keeping the production of various Ford vehicles going. This task is time consuming and “relatively mundane” for Ford workers, though, the company says.
The robot is designed to take over this role, and free up operators so that they can spend their time on more complex tasks. Ford notes that the robot does not replace employees, but instead saves up to 40-employee hours every day by taking over this role.
Survival is equipped with an automated shelf that has 17 slots to hold materials of different weights and sizes. The opening and closing of these slots is automated to avoid any errors, which means that operators in each area only have access to the materials assigned to them.
“It’s been on trial for almost a year now and has performed faultlessly to-date. It’s become quite a valuable team member,” Magraner says.
“Hopefully we can put it into full-time use shortly and expand into other Ford facilities.”
Survival is one of several smart robots being utilized in Ford’s European facilities, including the “Robutt” and co-bots in Cologne, Germany. To visualize its surroundings, the robot uses lidar, the same technology used in Ford’s prototype autonomous vehicles.