Ford and U-M open $75M robotics research building

The new Ford Robotics Building on the U-M campus puts students in labs just beneath a floor of labs filled with Ford researchers and engineers. (Ford Motor)


Ford and the University of Michigan gave a virtual tour Tuesday of a sparkling new $75 million robotics building on campus where students will work in labs on three floors below a floor devoted to Ford robotics and mobility research.

About 100 Ford roboticists and autonomous vehicle researchers will work on the fourth floor of the 134,000-square foot Ford Motor Company Robotics Building, while the lower three floors will house custom U-M research labs for robots that fly, walk, roll and augment the human body.

Ford CTO Ken Washington told reporters that Ford is “not closing the door to any possible focus” for the research that Ford does at the facility. He suggested there could be room for developing ways to make machines like prosthetics more durable. Also, he suggested Ford wants a “broader” definition of robots for manufacturing and “possibly aerial” technologies.

However, he said Ford will primarily use the research to focus on assisted driving technologies for retail vehicle customers and ways to use robotics in commercial vehicles used in making deliveries and other services.

“We’re open to any creative collision outcomes that might materialize” with interactions between Ford engineers and students, Sherwood added.  Ford employees at the site won’t be required to teach students but will be allowed to do so.

“This is really a central part in our playbook committed to modernizing the company everywhere as we go to market,” Sherwood said. “We have to bring new services and experiences that are delighting customers. This includes retail and commercial vehicles, integrating robotics.”

For U-M, the new building brings together researchers from 23 differ buildings and ten top -10 programs. A 30-mph treadmill will be used to test disaster response robots and a stair-stepped robot playground will test other robots aided by AI.  Biomed engineers will have access to earthquake platforms to help develop lighter-weight prosthetic legs.

Ford engineers will be able to take AVs from robotic computer simulations to on-road testing at U-M’s proving ground a mile away.