ANN ARBOR, MI – In just a couple of years, robots will drive, walk and fly on the University of Michigan’s North Campus, says Alec Gallimore, the university’s College of Engineering dean.
Gallimore was among those who gathered Friday, April 13, to mark the groundbreaking of UM’s $75-million Ford Motor Company Robotics Building.
Scheduled to open in early 2020, the 140,000-square-foot, four-story complex will house classrooms, offices, a startup-style open collaboration area and tailored lab space for a variety of robotic technologies.
Plans include a three-story fly zone for autonomous aerial vehicles, an outdoor obstacle course for walking robots, high-bay garage space for self-driving cars, and dedicated space for rehabilitation and mobility robots such as prosthetics and exoskeletons.
“This groundbreaking is not actually about moving dirt,” Gallimore said Friday. “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,” he added. “In tandem with M-Air across the street, our drone test facility; Mcity down the street, which allows us to test connected and self-driving cars; 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.”
Gov. Rick Snyder said there are changing economic and societal influences because of robotic technology, making the new Ford Motor Company Robotics Building a key factor in advancing Michigan as a leader in the budding industry.
“We’re seeing the influence of robotics improve our lives every day, whether we know it or not,” Snyder said. “We have a world-leading place here that’s not just thinking about today, but doing the researching and creating the pipeline of talent that is going to give us a wonderful place for generations to come.”
Ford contributed $15 million toward the construction of the building, with more than 100 employees expected to occupy its top floor, Ford Motor Vice President of Research and Advanced Engineering Kenneth Washington said, where it will perform robotics research and engineering in collaboration with UM and other industry leaders.
Washington said Ford already has taken advantage of being on UM’s North Campus through its presence at Mcity, but the automotive company is just scratching the surface of what is possible.
“The Ford Robotics Building presents an all-new way for us to work together – to create new opportunities, to innovate together,” he said. “This is a place where the best and brightest – from Ford Motor Company and the University of Michigan students and professors will be together. This will be an unprecedented working environment.”
The lab will build on the robotic technologies already advancing on the UM campus, with more than 50 faculty members utilizing or studying robotic technologies.
Advancements at UM include 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.
The building also will make UM one of only a few institutions with a dedicated robotics facility. In addition to the groundbreaking, the college will launch the UM Robotics Institute, which will be housed in the Ford Motor Company Robotics Building.
Being a part of the first Robotics Institute class that launched at UM four years ago, doctoral student Katherine Skinner said she has seen interest in the field grow significantly, from an inaugural class of eight students to nearly 100 currently.
The one thing the program never had, she said, was a place to call its own, gaining some rooms in the basement of the Space Research building. The new lab, she said, will more than adequately address those needs for robotics students going forward.
“From what I saw in the virtual reality tour, this building will be quite an upgrade from our basement room in the Space Research building,” Skinner joked. “Instead of one room, we’ll have many labs, classrooms and other spaces for collaboration. Most importantly, robotics students will finally have a home here on North Campus.”
Published at Fri, 13 Apr 2018 18:00:52 +0000