U-M Breaks Ground on Ford Robotics Building, Part of Upcoming Robotics Institute


Officials at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor Friday broke ground on the $75-million Ford Motor Company Robotics Building. The new facility, slated to open in early 2020, will be a four-story, 140,000-square-foot structure.

Plans for the building include classrooms, offices, a startup-style open collaboration area, a three-story fly zone for autonomous aerial vehicles (M-Air is already operating across the street), an outdoor obstacle course for walking robots, a high-bay garage space for self-driving cars, and space for rehabilitation and mobility robots such as prosthetics and exoskeletons.

An agreement with Ford will release the fourth floor to perform robotics research and engineering in collaboration with U-M 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,” says Mark Schlissel, U-M president. “I want to express my appreciation to our great partner, Ford Motor Co., 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.

Across U-M’s campus, more than 50 faculty members are using or studying robotic technologies.

“This groundbreaking is not actually about moving dirt. It is really about breaking ground on new norms of work, play, transit, and daily living,” says Alec Gallimore, dean of engineering and professor of aerospace engineering and applied physics.

“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.”

M-Air is a new outdoor fly lab for testing autonomous air vehicles, while Mcity offers a lab for future mobility.

The building will make U-M one of only a few institutions with a dedicated robotics facility. The college will also launch a new strategic thrust called the Robotics Institute.

“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. “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.”

Ford and U-M’s partnership goes back 60 years, and Ford is the single largest corporate donor to the university.

“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,” says Ken Washington, vice president of research and advanced engineering, and chief technology officer of Ford Motor Co.

The building will be situated on the northeast corner of Hayward and Draper on U-M’s north campus, adjacent to M-Air and the Space Research Building.

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