Robots walk across the floor of the University of Michigan’s Ford Motor Co. Robotics Building, March 12, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Mich. The four-story, $75 million, 134,000-square-foot complex has three floors that house classrooms and research labs for robots that fly, walk, roll and augment the human body. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Robots walk across the floor of the University of Michigan’s Ford Motor Co. Robotics Building, March 12, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Mich. The four-story, $75 million, 134,000-square-foot complex has three floors that house classrooms and research labs for robots that fly, walk, roll and augment the human body. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Ford partners with University of Michigan on robotics research, new building

A grand opening was held Tuesday for the four-story, $75 million, 134,000-square-foot complex

Digit marches on two legs across the floor of the University of Michigan’s Ford Motor Co. Robotics Building, while Mini-Cheetah — staccato-like — does the same on four and the yellow-legged Cassie steps deliberately side-to-side.

A grand opening was held Tuesday for the four-story, $75 million, 134,000-square-foot (11,429-square-meter) complex. Three floors house classrooms and research labs for robots that fly, walk, roll and augment the human body.

On the top floor are Ford researchers and engineers and the automaker’s first robotics and mobility research lab on a university campus.

Together, they will work to develop robots and roboticists that help make lives better, keep people safer and build a more equitable society, the school and automaker announced Tuesday.

“As we all drive and use our vehicles and go about our day-to-day lives, I’m sure all of us have moments in our day where we could use a little help or a little assistance,” said Ken Washington, Ford’s chief technology officer.

“We are going to be working on drone technology, walking robots, roving robots, all types of robots in this facility and the ways in which they can make people’s lives better,” Washington added. “And we’ll do it in a way that addresses questions and fears around safety and security. The more people see how these robots can interact with society and interact with humans, the more comfortable they’ll get with them.”

The building on the university’s Ann Arbor campus brings together researchers from 23 buildings and 10 programs into one space. Those working on two-legged disaster response robots can test them on a 30-mph (48-kph) treadmill studded with obstacles or on a stair-stepped “robot playground” designed with the help of artificial intelligence.

Biomedical engineers are looking at developing lighter, more stable prosthetic legs. Ford engineers are exploring how upright Digit robots can work in human spaces.

“We want them to be able to operate in realistic situations … you get out in the real world where there’s rolling, twigs,” said Jessy Grizzle, the Robotics Institute director. “There’s rocks. There’s boulders. There’s holes that you can’t see because the grass is cut flat, and then you want your robots to respond well and stay upright just like a human would.”

Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford and other automakers are investing billions of dollars in autonomous vehicles. and robotics is expected to play a major role in their development. Ford announced in February that it was autonomous vehicle investment to $7 billion, from sensing systems to specific research into applications such as Digit, a spokesman said.

In November, Ford revealed plans to transform a long-vacant Detroit book warehouse into a hub for automobile innovation. Detroit’s Corktown neighbourhood is the site of Ford’s planned $740 million project to create a place where new transportation and mobility ideas are nurtured and developed.

People one day may see a robot similar to Digit emerge from a driverless vehicle, stroll across their lawn and leave a package at the door of homes in their neighbourhood, according to Washington.

“This is an exciting proposition, especially in this post-COVID era where the promise of doing shopping online has become just sort of the norm,” he said. “As you think about a future where package delivery is going to be part of daily life, this is a real opportunity for us to pair a robot with an autonomous vehicle to help solve the problem of package delivery at scale.”

“It’s not here today, but you can be pretty certain that it’s coming in the not-too-distant future,” Washington said.

Researchers working together in the building are designing robots for people, said Alec Gallimore, dean of Engineering at the University of Michigan.

“Robots aren’t people and people aren’t robots, but we think — together — there can be synergy,” Gallimore said. “So, we’re designing robots that are going to help you. First responders for example. Can we put robots in harm’s way so we don’t have to have people there?”

Ford contributed about $37 million to the cost of the robotics building which also features a three-story, indoor fly zone to test drones and other autonomous aerial vehicles indoors; a yard designed with input from scientists at the university and NASA to test vehicles and landing concepts on a landscape mimicking the surface of Mars.

Ford

Just Posted

This photo courtesy of Leanne Grover shows the immediate aftermath of the fire at 7987 Galbraith Cres. that caused extensive damage and displaced six residents. (Leanne Grover/Submitted)
Residents of a Central Saanich duplex ‘fortunate’ to escape Sunday morning fire

Damage to the duplex extensive with one resident said to be ‘catatonic’ after escaping building

Coulson Aviation’s newest Chinook helicopter, N43CU, takes to the air above the Alberni Valley Regional Airport following a complete airframe conversion into a helitanker, April 8, 2021. (PHOTO COURTESY BILL MCLEOD)
Coulson Aviation’s newest helitanker takes flight

Converted Chinook helitanker off to U.S. for new paint job

Katie Hamilton is one of three Victoria residents receiving a $10,000 podcast production grant from Telus Storyhive. Her podcast, Her Love of Sport, will take listeners through stories from women in the sports industry. (Courtesy of Katie Hamilton)
Three podcasts coming to Victoria following Telus Storyhive grants

Victoria podcasts chosen out of 700 applications to receive $10,000

A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)
VIDEO: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers produce COVID-19 healing song

Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso share dance and inspiration.

Paramedic Matthew Schlatter of Victoria is living a fuller life today due to the double lung transplant he received in 2019. He encourages B.C. residents to register as an organ donor and let their families know their wishes. (Instagram/Matthew Schlatter)
Vancouver Island man living a full, active life after double-lung transplant

Matt Schlatter encourages people to register as an organ donor to help others live

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has listed Harbour Air and Air Canada flights to and from Nanaimo, from April 3, 4 and 12, on its list of flights with COVID-19. (News Bulletin file)
COVID-19 cases reported for Nanaimo flights, says disease control centre

Nanaimo flights for April 3, 4 and 12 listed on BCCDC’s list of flights with COVID-19

A Parksville Fire Department’s firefighter hoses down the facade of a Parksville Heritage Centre building after it caught fire on Friday afternoon (April 16). (Michael Briones photo)
Fire crews, roofers work to douse building fire in Parksville

Damage was minimal and workers escaped injury

Most Read