These four-legged dog-like robots can sit, shake hands and roll over. They also can perform 360-degree camera scans, handle 30-degree grades and climb stairs for hours at a time.
That’s because they are actually 70-pound quadruped robots with distinctly dog-like mobility. They’re part of a Ford manufacturing pilot program designed to save time, reduce cost and increase efficiency.
Fluffy, the name given by the robot’s handler Paula Wiebelhaus, is one of the two models Ford is leasing from Boston Dynamics, known for creating sophisticated mobile robots. (The other Ford robot is named Spot after the product’s actual name.)
The robots, which Ford is piloting at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant, are bright yellow and easily recognizable. Equipped with five cameras, the robots can travel up to 3 mph on a battery lasting nearly two hours and will be used to scan the plant floor and assist engineers in updating the original Computer Aided Design which is utilized when we’re getting ready to retool our plants.
“We design and build the plant. After that, over the years, changes are made that rarely get documented,” says Mark Goderis, Ford’s digital engineering manager. “By having the robots scan our facility, we can see what it actually looks like now and build a new engineering model. That digital model is then used when we need to retool the plant for new products.”
Without Fluffy, the update would be far more tedious.
“We used to use a tripod, and we would walk around the facility stopping at different locations, each time standing around for five minutes waiting for the laser to scan,” Goderis recalls. “Scanning one plant could take two weeks. With Fluffy’s help, we are able to do it in half the time.”
The old way also was expensive – it cost nearly $300,000 to scan one facility. If this pilot works, Ford’s manufacturing team could scan all its plants for a fraction of the cost. These cutting-edge technologies help save the company money and retool facilities faster, ultimately helping bring new vehicles to market sooner.
In time, Goderis says, the intent is to be able to operate the robots remotely, programming them for plant missions and receiving reports immediately from anywhere in the country. For now, the robots can be programmed to follow a specific path and can be operated from up to 50 meters away with the out-of-the-box tablet application.
The key to Fluffy and Spot’s success is their agility, says Wiebelhaus, who controls her robot through a gaming-like device that allows her to remotely see the camera view. Should an issue occur, Wiebelhaus’ control device features a safe stop that stops it from colliding with anything.
The robots have three operational gaits – a walk for stable ground, an amble for uneven terrain and a special speed for stairs. 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. They maintain a safe, set distance from objects to prevent collisions.
At times, Fluffy sits on its robotic haunches and rides on the back of a small, round Autonomous Mobile Robot, known informally as Scouter. Scouter glides smoothly up and down the aisles of the plant, allowing Fluffy to conserve battery power until it’s time to get to work. Scouter can autonomously navigate facilities while scanning and capturing 3-D point clouds to generate a CAD of the facility. If an area is too tight for Scouter, Fluffy comes to the rescue.
“There are areas in the plant that you might not want to walk into because they might be tough to maneuver,” says Wiebelhaus. “It’s easier and safer to send Fluffy back there.”
Although Fluffy is perfectly capable of rolling over, Wiebelhaus doesn’t see dog shows in his future.
“Fluffy is an amazing manufacturing tool,” said Weibelhaus. “Yes, it’s interesting and new, but Fluffy should really be valued for his work and tenacity. He can do so much more than dance and roll over. We want to push him to the limits in the manufacturing plant and see what value he has for the company.”
In 2018, the launch of the latest Actros model series saw Mercedes-Benz Trucks premiere a comprehensively networked workplace with colour displays in the form of their intuitively operable Multimedia Cockpit. Two standard screens form the centrepiece of the so-called human-machine interface – or HMI for short. These serve as the central source of information for the driver: The high-resolution primary colour display replaces the traditional instrument cluster and offers a clear display of all driving and vehicle infromation. It is supplemented by a second screen in the centre of the dashboard – the secondary display.
How has the driver’s cab cockpit changed with the new Actros?
"The current Actros model series represents the change from an analogue to a digital driver's workplace. As the first fully digitalised cockpit in a series-production truck was launched in 2018, it was revolutionary. Besides the two displays for the MirrorCam, the centrally positioned primary display and the secondary display now serve as the new HMI, replacing a majority of the instruments in the cockpit. The display of the new safety and assistance systems is directly integrated into the driver's perspective. Driving manoeuvres which systems like Active Drive Assist and Predictive Powertrain Control (PPC) intelligent cruise and transmission control carry out are shown in a clear manner on the primary display. That ensures greater safety and efficiency whilst also relieving strain on the driver. In addition, drivers can use the Touch Control buttons of the ultra-modern multifunction steering wheel to operate both displays, all without having to remove their hands from the steering wheel.
Which basic principles were applied during development of the new truck HMI?
"The designers at Mercedes-Benz Trucks developed the cockpit around the driver. The aim was to design the displays and operation in such a way that drivers can have a clear overview of the driving situation at all times, especially when they are using assistance systems. As part of the conception of the human-machine interface, the designers ensured that drivers – whose job is already stressful enough – are provided with a system which is simple and which doesn't require vast amounts of time being invested in learning how to use its controls. That's why the user-interface elements were designed such that they are intuitively operable."
Which functions does the secondary display house?
"The secondary display in the dashboard to the right of the steering wheel supplements the primary display which is positioned centrally in the driver's field of vision. Where previously lots of switches for the various functions reigned, the driver now has a touchscreen which provides access to a diverse range of settings and vehicle functions. The secondary display includes an integrated radio infotainment system and allows easy operation of such things as the heating, climate control, navigation system, vehicle functions, telephony and both exterior and interior lighting. Different switches can be displayed, with which the most diverse vehicle body functions can be controlled, thus not only making operation easier but also drastically facilitating conversions by bodybuilders. Using Bluetooth, two mobile devices can be connected to the hands-free function, thus allowing drivers to listen to their own music and simultaneously access their contacts. That's an especially important feature, because drivers often have a work mobile phone and a private mobile phone with them in the cab. In addition, two brand-new USB-C connections not only enable storage media to be connected but also the direct connection of two mobile devices. Using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, these can be connected with the vehicle with ease and then controlled using the secondary display."
What are the additional features of the Multimedia Cockpit interactive?
"The range-topping version of the new digital cockpit concept is equipped with even greater functionality than the standard Multimedia Cockpit. Included in the scope of equipment for the Multimedia Cockpit interactive are the navigation system with Traffic Sign Assist and Remote online for checking and controlling vehicle functions on a smartphone. Incidentally, it's now possible to connect two smartphones simultaneously, with one of them being able to be charged wirelessly in an inductive charging cradle. With the Multimedia Cockpit interactive, the truck is set up for the highest level of connectivity. Using the Mercedes-Benz Truck App Portal, the truck can be equipped with further comfort and efficiency-enhancing apps. For example, consignment orders can be conveniently managed from the cab with the aid of an easy-to-use app. From a business perspective, it also makes sense to use real-time checks in Fleetboard and Mercedes-Benz Uptime which are available via the Truck Data Center (see below for more information). Plus, the primary display of the Multimedia Cockpit interactive has a 12-inch screen diagonal and is thus much bigger than the standard variant. When configuring the primary display, the driver can choose from two screen designs: "Advanced" and "Classic". "Advanced" enables an individual and variable presentation of content in three clusters. The speedometer with driving information and integrated rev counter is positioned centrally as a large round dial. To the left of it is vehicle-specific information such as reservoir pressure, operating temperatures or the range display. On the right, vehicle-relevant content is displayed – for example driving and rest times, the phonebook or audio. The "Classic" representation resembles the display of the regular Multimedia Cockpit."
For shift work or holiday replacements: how many driver profiles can be saved?
"The Multimedia Cockpit can define and call up to six driver profiles using the driver cards for the digital tachograph or for Fleetboard. The system then automatically loads the relevant settings. The truck saves and keeps the last used menu in the central display, the sensitivity of the Touch Control buttons, the language and the audio settings."
How are assistance systems shown in the Multimedia Cockpit?
"If the driver has switched on the cruise control or Distance Assist and the truck reaches a speed of 15 km/h, PPC will also be automatically activated. The white PPC symbol then appears in the primary display. As soon as the system actively takes control of the drivetrain, the colour of the symbol changes to green. What's more, the display also overlays graphics which show upcoming route events such as bends, roundabouts and junctions, as well as schematically announcing speed limits. The display also shows the driving scenarios of Active Drive Assist. This system can autonomously brake and accelerate the truck as well as keep it in lane by means of active steering movements. If the system's camera detects lane markings on both sides of the road, Active Drive Assist actively assists the driver with longitudinal and lateral guidance of the truck. This is indicated to the driver in the primary display of the Multimedia Cockpit in the form of a blue steering wheel symbol and blue road markings. The functions of the latest version of the Active Brake Assist 5 emergency braking assistant are also visualised here."
Which settings can be made using the multifunction steering wheel?
"During driving, drivers should keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times but should still be in a position to operate the various systems with ease. And that's where the new multifunction steering wheel comes into its own. Using the Touch Control buttons in the left and right-hand control panels of the steering wheel, the driver can access a broad range of information as well as operate a number of vehicle functions and systems simply using swiping movements and by pressing. Using the Touch Control button on the left-hand side of the steering wheel, the driver can operate the primary display, whilst the Touch Control button on the right enables operation of the secondary display. Functions such as climate control, the radio, interior lighting or accepting incoming phone calls are all within direct reach. The intuitive operability of the system also ensures drivers are less distracted – something which was one of the primary development aims. With the six buttons arranged in a circle around the Touch Control button on the left-hand side of the multifunction steering wheel, the driver can activate such things as the cruise control or Distance Assist. The Touch Control button in the middle of the left-hand switch panel is important for the operation of Active Drive Assist. This allows the position of the new Actros within its lane to be set in various stages: depending on the direction in which the driver wants to move the truck within the lane, they must swipe left or right horizontally across the Touch Control pad and confirm their entry. The distance to the vehicle in front can also be set here. To do this, the driver must swipe vertically up or down."
Is the MirrorCam also part of the Multimedia Cockpit?
"No, the MirrorCam is an independent system with two 15.2-inch displays on the A-pillars within the cab. With these digital rear-view mirrors, Mercedes-Benz Trucks has brought a ground-breaking innovation to our roads. It replaces the main and wide-angle mirrors and thus provides a much better all-round view. The system is also a vast improvement in terms of aerodynamics, safety and vehicle handling, not to mention being yet another example of how the cab of the new Actros has been consistently trimmed for the digital world."
Is the Multimedia Cockpit also available for the new Arocs?
"In the Arocs construction professional, the driver also benefits from the ease of operation and display of the Multimedia cockpit and a completely revised HMI."
How do the Multimedia Cockpit and the Truck Data Center interact with one another?
"The Truck Data Center is a central component of the vehicle and its networking. It's the vehicle's external connection, as it were, and forms the basis for all connectivity solutions such as Fleetboard, the Truck App Portal and Mercedes-Benz Uptime. This connectivity is an important aspect of a digital workplace. Those who invest in this technology can enjoy using present and future digital services."
TRANSACT was made available to the online motor retail market leader’s direct retailer customer base from April 20. It is designed to develop online consumer interest in a specific vehicle through to a final transaction while managing the complexities of the sales process, either online or in the showroom.
Development work on the product began in Autumn 2019 and it was originally due to be brought to market later this year. However, the launch was accelerated by iVendi in the first month of lockdown because it was believed to be highly appropriate for dealers during current circumstances.
James Tew, CEO, said: “TRANSACT seemed to us like very much the right solution for the moment and these results show that belief to have been correct.
“By launching our very latest technology during this time we’ve allowed dealers to maximise and progress sales as far as possible during lockdown and the current, still-compromised conditions that have followed. In total, it has been used to manage and negotiate an impressive £63m of digital deals.
“We worked very hard to make TRANSACT both results-driven and easy-to-use and the fact that a wide range of dealers have adopted it, even during a period when many were effectively non-operational, is very pleasing. It can now credibly claim to be the most significant online motor retailing platform in the UK today.
“We will continue to waive any charges to our dealer customers until we feel the car retail sector is out of the woods, however long that turns out to be.”
James explained that one of the key points that had made TRANSACT suitable for the coronavirus crisis was the way it enabled digital deals to be constructed by the retailer and pushed online into a dedicated customer account area with effect of digitally emulating a traditional face-to-face conversation.
“We’re claiming this kind of digital deal as an industry first. The product enables flexible negotiation over price and other key factors, the sale of value added products and the ability to present multiple finance offers with instant decisioning.
“Our research shows that 69% of used car sales don’t happen at the advertised price. There is price negotiation, warranties are upgraded, paint protection is added and so on. TRANSACT takes account of this and provides the means for the conversations to occur digitally as well as in the showroom.
“All of this is delivered in a very natural and seamless fashion that, we believe, combines the best aspects of conversational and digital deal making for both the vehicle retailer and the vehicle buyer. For dealers who are currently finding themselves adopting reserve-and-collect and home delivery trading models, these new and highly effective channels of communication have obvious relevance.”
James added that in terms of delivering results for dealers both during and after the crisis, a key point was that TRANSACT didn’t require the dealer to change their website because it would work highly effectively within existing online infrastructures.
iVendi has launched three products in 2020 – ENGAGE, CONVERT and TRANSACT - that together form a comprehensive online motor retail journey for all vehicle retailers from small dealers to multi-national businesses. CONVERT was introduced in January and ENGAGE was brought to market in July.
This investment will allow the Company to grow sales internationally and brings the total invested by the Fund to £2.95 million, having originally invested £1.5 million in October 2018 to support the Company’s first product to market.
Inovo was founded in 2016 by Henry Wood and Jonathan Cheung, both former senior engineers at defence technology company, Northrup Grumman. The Company is developing a competitively priced “cobot”, a collaborative robot designed to operate safely within a human work environment and intended to assist people with repetitive tasks. It offers manufacturing and logistics companies that perform batch processes a more cost-effective solution. Rather than having to purchase multiple robots for individual tasks, the modular design means its cobot can be easily adapted to optimise the balance between reach and payload. Moreover, its simple and easy-to-use software allows even a non-specialist user to re-program the cobot quickly for a new task.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the cobot market was growing rapidly. Social distancing directives will likely dominate the workplace for the foreseeable future and automation will play an increasingly important role in the post-pandemic workplace. Inovo, with its adaptable cobot, is well-placed to help companies begin to recover, performing manual tasks typically undertaken by humans, resulting in fewer human interactions and safe working conditions for employees in the post-COVID-19 workplace.
Commenting on the investment, Andrew Bloxam, Senior Investment Manager at Foresight, said: “It has been a pleasure to see Inovo bring its product to market since our initial investment in late 2018. Now, with strong interest from customers and the need for automation solutions like cobots growing rapidly, we are delighted to invest again and support the company as it scales up.”
Henry Wood, Co-founder, Inovo Robotics: “Having the support from the Foresight Williams Technology EIS Fund has allowed us to significantly accelerate the development of the business. Foresight has made an invaluable contribution to the company’s commercial strategy, helping to identify new opportunities and building a solid growth strategy. WAE has a vast range of relevant experience and hundreds of highly skilled experts who continue to assist us with highly specialist technical challenges that arise. Closing this second round of investment is testament to the strong relationship with FWT and a deep shared belief in the scale of the market opportunity”.
Matthew Burke, Head of Technology Ventures, Williams Advanced Engineering, added “Inovo has made excellent progress since our initial investment and is now poised to capitalise on the growing need for automation in the workplace. We are also delighted to see the interest Inovo has generated with our partners following introductions from WAE.”
Recognising the growing concern about air quality, the Group unveiled three new air-conditioning technologies – ‘After-Blow’, ‘Multi-Air Mode’, and ‘Fine Dust Indicator’. The technologies will be introduced initially on select models in Korea and expand to upcoming Kia, Hyundai and Genesis vehicles worldwide in the future.
‘After-Blow’ dries the condensate on the evaporator and suppresses mould growth in the air-conditioning system, which can cause an odour during hot weather. After the engine is turned off and the condensate on the evaporator drains naturally for about 30 minutes, ‘After-Blow’ activates for 10 minutes to dry the evaporator and any condensate leftover in the air passage. The air-conditioning system automatically allows influx of outside air during this time to prevent humidity from building up.
The technology uses an intelligent battery sensor (IBS) to monitor the battery and stops functioning when the battery is low, allaying any concerns about batter discharge. It also de-activates when the air conditioning system is not in use for a certain period of time, or when the outside temperature is low.
‘Multi-Air Mode’ uses multiple vents for air conditioning and heating to create a more pleasant in-car environment with gentle air flow. When this mode is activated, the air is dispersed to the newly added multi-air slots in the driver and passenger seats in addition to the normal air vents. The overall wind volume remains the same, but the dispersion of wind reduces direct air contact and softens the air. This mode can be switched on and off based on the preference of the driver.
‘Fine Dust Indicator’ measures the air inside the vehicle in real time and delivers digitised information, allowing the driver to better manage the air quality. The indicator displays the concentration and pollution level of ultrafine particles (PM 2.5) inside the vehicle using integer numbers and colours for better visibility to the user: blue for 0 to 15 μg/m3, green for 16 to 35 μg/m3, orange for 36 to 75 μg/m3, and red for 76 μg/m3 or higher.
If the level of ultrafine particles exceeds 36 μg /m3 while the function is active, the air-cleaning mode will run to purify the air in the vehicle. The air-cleaning system automatically sets the air volume between three and eight and switches to air-recirculation mode and activates the air conditioning system to reduce in-car humidity. If the air does not improve in air-cleaning mode, it can also serve as a reminder to the driver to replace air-conditioner filters or to clean contaminated seats and mats.
“While the breadth and depth of resources and expertise will immediately place IAAPS within the world’s top independent powertrain research facilities, the most exciting aspect is that we are starting with a clean sheet of paper,” explains Professor Gary Hawley, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering & Design at the University of Bath. “We began by plotting the technology roadmap required for the development of zero emissions road transport and planned IAAPS to help accelerate that journey.”
That means recognising not just that the technologies are changing faster than ever before – from pure petrol and diesel to electrified, electric, hydrogen and alternative fuels – but that to facilitate this rapid transition, the industry needs new areas of expertise, new development tools, more skills and new ways of facilitating collaboration and innovation.
“IAAPS will focus as much on the ‘how’ as on the ‘what’” continues Prof. Hawley. “That includes the development of new development processes and simulation techniques, education in new areas of technology and encouraging collaboration between innovators and those who can help realise their ideas.”
Expertise will be drawn from the university’s team of more than 40 academics who are active in relevant areas of research, alongside collaborations with vehicle manufacturers, Tier 1 technology suppliers and specialist innovation businesses. As an institute of the University, IAAPS cuts across traditional research boundaries, allowing Engineering, Mathematics, Chemistry, Psychology and other relevant disciplines to work together to find the best solutions
The University of Bath is already recognised as one of the UK’s leading centres of expertise in next-generation automotive propulsion technologies, with commercial research programmes across a wide range of fields. In 2015 the Faculty of Engineering was appointed to lead the Thermal Propulsion Systems – Systems Efficiency spoke of the UK government’s Advanced Propulsion Centre, more recently providing insight and expertise for the UK Automotive Council’s Automotive Technology Roadmap.
Based at the Bristol and Bath Science Park, IAAPS will provide 11,300 m2 of R&D facilities, education resources and research cells. Alongside state-of-the-art engine and chassis dynamometers and laboratories for combustion research, it includes a substantial investment in systems for the development and testing of electrification technologies including battery management and energy storage systems. IAAPS will be one of the first commercially available facilities to include cells designed for the development and testing of high-voltage battery packs, supercapacitors, new cell designs and other high-energy electrical storage technologies.
Equally important is the focus on new generations of design and development tools. “The requirement for so many new technologies places tremendous pressure on timescales, resources and budgets, so the development of new tools and techniques is a vital component of product innovation,” states IAAPS programme director Gavin Edwards, who sees three areas where progress is needed.
“First, we must accelerate the development of existing and currently-understood technologies without compromising robustness, durability or cost,” he explains. “Second, we must develop ways to quickly design and validate all-new technologies to the same high standards. And finally, we must develop new tools that facilitate the tightest possible physical and control integration of complementary technologies into a single, highly efficient system that is as simple as possible to manufacture. These new design and development techniques will be both physical and virtual, with particular care taken in ensuring seamless correlation between real and virtual worlds. Our goal is to ‘left shift’ the entire powertrain development cycle.”
Funding for the new Institute comes from The University of Bath (£30m), the UK Government’s Research England (£29m) and the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (£10m).
Professor Hawley believes IAAPS will be a catalyst for sustainable economic growth, both nationally and in the region. “We are not just about solving the technical challenges,” he says. “IAAPS is also about making businesses stronger; supporting business incubation, accelerating the growth of smaller innovation firms, providing affordable access to skills and resources, facilitating collaboration and much more.”
Independent research by Warwick Economics, the Department of Economics at Warwick University, predicts that IAAPS will stimulate £67 million in additional R&D investment within five years of opening, driving an additional turnover of £800 million within the UK automotive sector and £221 million in additional Gross Value Added for the UK economy, supporting around 1,900 new jobs across the country. IAAPS, which will directly employ around 190 people, expects to stimulate the creation of around 400 high-quality jobs within the region.
IAAPS is expected to open mid 2021.
Garrett and Mercedes-AMG are in the final stages of development of this cornerstone project. The E-Turbo marks an important milestone in enabling automakers to meet industry challenges for increased energy efficiency and new regulatory emission targets through electrification and hybrid technology that satisfies consumer demands for better vehicle performance. Garrett’s E-Turbo is a unique application within the industry drawing upon its mission to meet the unserved needs of the industry with a solution not otherwise available.
“We are excited to support Mercedes-AMG with our cutting-edge technology and a shared vision of an electrified future in the industry,” said Garrett CEO and President Olivier Rabiller. “For Garrett, this application draws upon our capabilities as a leader in turbocharger and electrification technologies which will enable a long list of advanced electrified powertrains moving forward. This is the future of the industry: small, turbocharged, high-performance engines that are incredibly energy efficient and responsive.”
Garrett’s breakthrough technology includes not only a turbocharger achieving speeds of up to 170,000 rpm as published by Mercedes-AMG, but also pushes the industrial limits for high-speed electric motors which must operate perfectly in extreme temperatures and conditions between the two wheels of a traditional turbo setup. Garrett has also developed the power electronics hardware and control software that support the electric motor.
While Garrett’s first E-Turbo application will emerge in Mercedes-AMG premium, high-performance vehicles, Garrett has 10 active global programs in varying vehicle segments capable of electrical regeneration to create energy supporting hybrid vehicle operation. Garrett’s E-Turbo programme adds to its existing electrification portfolio which includes its TwoStage Electric Compressor for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles which went into production in 2016.
Garrett’s E-Turbo technology is just one example of how Garrett is well positioned to support future electric powertrains including hybrids as well as any other applications requiring a new approach to problem solving the most pressing needs of the industry.