Electronics and Semiconductors

Ford to open robot factory on the University of Michigan campus

17 March 2021
Research will include two-legged disaster response robots that they will test on a 30-mph treadmill studded with obstacles designed with artificial intelligence. Source: Ford

Ford Motor Company will help to build a robot factory on the University of Michigan (UM) campus to test, design and develop new robots for a variety of markets.

The Ford Motor Company Robotics Building is a four-story, $75 million, 134,000 sq ft complex situated on the north campus. The first three floors will hold custom research labs for robots that fly, walk, roll and augment the human body as well as classrooms, offices and makerspaces. The fourth-floor houses Ford’s first robotics and mobility research lab on the university campus, as well as 100 Ford researchers and engineers.

The new facility brings together UM researchers from 23 different buildings and will include research into two-legged disaster response robots that they will test on a 30 mph treadmill studded with obstacles designed with artificial intelligence (AI). Ford engineers will explore how its upright Digit robots can work in human spaces while taking autonomous vehicles from robotic computer simulations to on-road testing at UM’s proving ground down the road.

“As Ford continues the most profound transformation in our history with electrification, connectivity and automation, advancing our collaboration with the University of Michigan will help us accelerate superior experiences for our customers while modernizing our business,” said Ken Washington, CTO at Ford Motor Company. “We also will broaden our learning through daily exposure to many robotics activities, such as considering how our Digit robots not only technically can master delivering packages from autonomous vehicles but also become valued parts of our neighborhoods.”

UM aims to advance human-centered robots that will interact with people and move through the same space as humans as well as extend the human body and the process of human recognition.

This includes:

  • A rehabilitation lab for prosthetics and robotic controls that can tilt in any direction with force-feedback plates that measure ground contact.
  • A three-story fly zone to test drones and other autonomous aerial vehicles indoors before moving to the outdoor M-Air research facility.
  • The Mars yard designed with input from planetary scientists at UM for researchers and student teams to test rover and lander concepts on a landscape that mimics the Martian surface.
  • An AI robot playground outdoor obstacle course for testing robots on stairs, rocks and water surrounded by motion capture cameras.
  • A high-bay garage space for self-driving cars to put automated and connected vehicles through their paces in simulated urban and suburban environments.
To contact the author of this article, email PBrown@globalspec.com

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