By on July 28, 2020


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.


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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25 Comments on “Ford’s Fluffy: Stirrer of Irrational Fears...”

  • avatar

    Autonomous trucks, autonomous last mile delivery vehicles, robot dogs replacing engineers…..

    What’s left for all the humans that made a living doing these jobs?

    • 0 avatar

      In the next 20 years it is predicted that up to 40% of the workforce will loose their jobs to AI and new forms of automation. Anyone in low skill highly repetitive jobs are most at risk. If one doesn’t have a skilled trade or post secondary degree in the right field, they will have a hard time finding work.

    • 0 avatar

      “What’s left for all the humans that made a living doing these jobs?”

  • avatar

    Seems like a job that’s better suited for a drone.

  • avatar

    Maybe I am missing something, but this looks stupid. Why not have the handler carry the scanning tool in a backpack since they have to walk the ground anyways. At my job we are experimenting with a backpack LiDAR unit to measure trees in the forest. There is even a new smaller version that is handheld. The idea is that the user can monitor the data acquisition in real-time and adjust scanning intensity if insufficient coverage occurs.

    • 0 avatar

      “Why not have the handler carry the scanning tool in a backpack since they have to walk the ground anyways.” The dog is a lot more stable and more precise. You especially need stability for LIDAR. I personally don’t like LIDAR alone and use a combination of stereo photography, high-resolution photography, and coded laser light.

      • 0 avatar

        Is the dog more stable when mapping on the move, though? Doubtful. Probably doesn’t matter when it can kneel and snoop in corners, because well, stable gyro platforms for movie cameras in helicopters were on the market in the 1960s, fer crissake. They’re probably a wee bit better and smaller these days judging by the one in my phone. All you really need to do is pay people extra to kneel and poke into crevices in the corner of factories and stock warehouses. Amazon doesn’t pay its staff any more to do that now! But a RoboDog impresses the investors. Woof-woof. “Now, Clarence: Sit, boy. No, we won’t call you Fido, you’re the very royalty of dawgs. Now back to work!”

        This story first came out on Monday on many outlets other than TTAC where the GMA T50’s engine still hasn’t made the news grade, and that dawg has an awkward menacing gait in videos. Arf.

        When 7 billion of the world’s 8 billion humans are reduced to unproductive bio-casings surving on handouts of soylent-tofu, social media and soma, maybe the oligarchical top tier will finally wonder, hey?! Who among these food-eating, waste-producing nonentities can afford to buy our super-efficiently-made products? Lotto winners!

        I guess you can’t have everything

    • 0 avatar

      Pretty sure this is phase 1. With the eventual goal being having the operator sit at his desk monitoring several of these as they independently map the grounds.

  • avatar

    Don’t worry so much about the dog – robotic cat will be far more dangerous.

  • avatar

    Good riddance. Humans are unpredictable, mean, violent and difficult to program. Besides the human race, even including Africans, is on a brink of swift depopulation.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, it does seems that “right sizing” the population is on the agenda in the (very) near future. All leading to a nice sanitary global village — run, I suppose one might say, by the insane.

      This leads to the other pithy question: Are there really two opposing sides as publicly represented by the conservatives and the liberals? Or, are they really working in concert with all the public bickering between them just being a show to distract us?

      • 0 avatar

        “global village — run …by the insane.”

        That is what I see in youtube news every night, it seems unreal that people come to the point of voluntary self-destruction. But it actually happens before our eyes and the reason is that generations Y and Z know that this the end – they are the last generations. There is no tomorrow for human race because the letter Z is the last letter in alphabet.

        • 0 avatar

          “voluntary self-destruction”

          This year is without a doubt the year of idiotic hysteria. From the truly bizarre handling of the pan(dem)ic to hordes of white late teen/early twenties running around preaching bigotry against white people. I have learned, however, that some of problem seems to revolve around hyphenation. So, henceforth, I will “identify” (whatever that means…) as European-American to show that I am not too proud to hyphenate — and also, thereby, win the most syllables contest.

  • avatar

    While the format of “the hounds” is new and kind of cool, the concept has been around for quite awhile. We use laser equipment to map out our office buildings and create CAD drawings from them. If you have ever had the “pleasure” of mapping out the interior of a building by hand-held laser and measuring wheels, this is a godsend. Small errors always creep in when humans do it.

    Technology has made the world of design change rapidly over the last 20 years. I started doing electrical design work using AutoCAD release 10 IIRC. I used a 80386 machine. Talk about turtle slow – Regens were a good time to use the restroom. All drawings were independent. Release 14 was my sweet spot. As time went on the drawing set became fully integrated. I moved on to other things, but the “CADsluts” at work now can check if that recessed light specified will fit in the space or if the sprinkler pipe is occupying some of the same space. If I could have half the time spent in construction project meetings trying to resolve “hits” it would be a long time. So, yeah, I’m totally bullish on this.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Darn it. I knew I should have gone with robotic dog becomes self aware and launches preemptive nuclear strike on mankind for August. I had good old fashioned civil war for this month in the pool

  • avatar

    Future is wonderful but there is no place for human beings. that robodog is just a beginning.

  • avatar

    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…

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

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

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