Ford's Fluffy: Stirrer of Irrational Fears

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
fords fluffy stirrer of irrational fears

You’re probably disinterested to learn that Ford found a cheap way to measure and record the interior dimensions of assembly plants in preparation for retooling operations. However, the manner in which the company plans to scan its Van Dyke transmission facility is an altogether different matter.

The maker of wholesome products like the F-150 and a vast array of passenger cars no longer offered to American consumers chose to temporarily adopt a pair of hell hounds secretly designed to one day enslave the human race.

Your author can’t back up that last bit of conjecture, but we’ll see who gets the last laugh.

Fluffy and Spot, on loan from the endlessly eerie Boston Dynamics (maker of increasingly agile humanoid and animal-like robots that can jump and run and climb stairs) is expected to map the inside of the Michigan facility in a shorter length of time than a human surveyor could, and for less cost.

BUT AT WHAT PRICE?

Call me a paranoid yet amiable lunatic, but every time a tech outlet posts a video of BD’s latest creation going through its paces, I’m reminded of two things: First, that dystopian Black Mirror episode where a small number of human survivors scavenge for supplies amid a devastated landscape filled with marauding, killer robot dogs.

The second thing? The Mechanical Hound in Ray Bradbury’s unsettlingly prescient novel Fahrenheit 451. In that book, the all-seeing state releases said hounds to find and anesthetize persons suspected of subversive activities (like owning any and all books that were long ago banned, at the request of the public, to prevent personal offence), with the operation aided by a helicopter that broadcasts the chase on live TV. The audience gets in on the game, too, fostering public unity and reinforcing the state’s anti-individualist messaging.

In Ford’s case, the two robot dogs will provide a 3D map of the interior of its facility via 360-degree cameras and lasers over the course of 48 hours to save the company cash. The old way of doing it, with humans, would take up to two weeks, the company said, and cost up to $300,000. Oh look, a video:

“If this pilot works, Ford’s manufacturing team could scan all its plants for a fraction of the cost,” the automaker said in a release. “These cutting-edge technologies help save the company money and retool facilities faster, ultimately helping bring new vehicles to market sooner.”

And that’s why the two disturbingly named mechanical animals are at Van Dyke. Able to travel at 3 mph, with a battery life of two hours, the dogs are operated by a human handler who stays in the facility with them. With time, Ford claims, the hounds might be able to do the work independent from humans, relying on programmed instructions, collecting data that could be accessed remotely from anywhere on the planet.

They also weight 70 pounds, making them capable of knocking a man to the ground if directed at his legs with sufficient speed. That’s fear talking.

“The robots have three operational gaits – a walk for stable ground, an amble for uneven terrain and a special speed for stairs,” Ford said. “They can change positions from a crouch to a stretch, which allows them to be deployed to difficult-to-reach areas within the plant. They can handle tough terrain, from grates to steps to 30-degree inclines. If they fall, they can right themselves.”

Sweet dreams.

[Image: Ford]

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  • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Jul 29, 2020

    Boston Dynamics is one of my clients, I have been to their MA offices a few times. Lots of neat stuff to be seen around the place. I don't find these robot dogs creepy at all - they have no heads. Robot dogs with big metal teeth would be scary. But they do have lasers. Fricken lasers on their heads. Maybe they are evil...

  • Schmitt trigger Schmitt trigger on Jul 29, 2020

    When one thought that those movies, showing a dystopian future where robots rule over humans, were only science fiction.

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.
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