University of Michigan breaks ground on Ford Robotics Building

By Meredith Bruckner - Community News Producer

An architectural rendering of the southeast elevation of the planned Robotics Laboratory, which will be built northeast of the Space Research Building on the University of Michigan's North Campus (Courtesy: U-M)

ANN ARBOR - Officials at the University of Michigan broke ground Friday morning at its newest $75 million facility -- the Ford Motor Company Robotics Building.

According to the university, robots will fly, walk, drive and help enhance or rehabilitate human function starting in early 2020.

The four-story complex is 140,000 square feet and will house classrooms, a startup-style open concept collaboration area, offices and a tailored lab space.

Plans for the facility include an outdoor obstacle course for mobile robots, a three-story fly zone for autonomous drones, a space for mobility and rehabilitation robots, such as exoskeletons and prosthetics, and a high-bay garage for autonomous vehicles.

(George Council, Electrical Engin-Systems PhD student, explains and demonstrates his work with a biological inspired robot on North Campus of the University of Michigan on June 21, 2016. Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing)

The fourth floor will be leased by Ford to conduct robotics engineering and research in collaboration with the university and other industry leaders.
"At Michigan, our research and education are strengthened by collaborations with industry that help us drive forward in our mission while powering the economic prosperity of our state," said U-M President Mark Schlissel during the ceremony.

"I want to express my appreciation to our great partner, Ford Motor Company, not just for today, but for its legacy of supporting students and faculty across the breadth of U-M. I'm proud that this facility will lead to even greater accomplishments in education, research and societal impact from Michigan Engineering," he said.

As technologies advance, robotics are being applied to a variety of fields.

Across the university's campus, more than 50 members of engineering, kinesiology and medical school faculties are studying or utilizing robotic technologies.

(Jessy Grizzle's robot Marlo walking on the Wave Field at the University of Michigan's North Campus. Photo: Marcin Szczepanski, senior multimedia producer, University of Michigan College of Engineering)

According to the press release:

"They're making prosthetic limbs that could one day be controlled by the brain; self-driving and connected cars designed to transform transportation; spacecraft to study the solar system and Earth; autonomous submarines that can map the ocean floor or inspect Navy ship hulls for dangerous mines; as well as a host of walking machines inspired by insects, crabs and humans that have the potential to eventually assist search or rescue tasks." 

"This 'groundbreaking' is not actually about moving dirt," said Alec D. Gallimore, professor of both aerospace engineering and applied physics. "It is really about breaking ground on new norms of work, play, transit and daily living.
"This amazing facility will be home to robots that improve the quality of life by addressing a wide range of societal needs. In tandem with M-Air across the street, Mcity down the road and the Friedman Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratory across campus, this university is the only academic institution that can boast test facilities for robots on land, in air, in water and in space," he said.

(Steve Vozar, ME PhD Student, tests one of the Unmanned Ground Vehicles he is working on in the HH Dow Building on October 15, 2013. Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing)

The facility will add U-M to the small list of institutions that have a dedicated robotics facility. 

In addition to the groundbreaking, the college is launching the Robotics Institute, which will be housed in the building.

"The Robotics Institute is really all about people, and this new building will make it possible for the roboticists of today, as well as those of tomorrow, to work together across disciplines in unprecedented ways," said Jessy Grizzle, U-M's inaugural director of robotics at the groundbreaking.
"Today, our students and faculty members are scattered in 12 different departments and six different schools and colleges. This building will bring them together. It will facilitate the exchange of ideas. It will inspire bold ideas. And its advanced labs will provide the space to make those dreams real," he said.

(David Remy, ME Professor, works in the Robotics and Motion Laboratory (RAMLab) in the GG Brown Building, testing the research group's new robot, Ramone, on May 27, 2014. Photo: University of Michigan)

"With the strength of the University of Michigan—including Mcity and the new Ford Robotics building, the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti, Ford World Headquarters and engineering campus in Dearborn, and our growing presence in Detroit— southeastern Michigan is fast becoming a corridor of mobility innovation unlike you'll find anywhere else in the world," said Ken Washington, vice president of research and advanced engineering and chief technology officer of Ford Motor Co.
The building will be located on U-M's North Campus on the corner of Hayward and Draper, adjacent to M-Air and the Space Research Building.

Learn more about U-M robotics here.

Read: An afternoon with U-M Robotics' newest robot

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