ANN ARBOR, Mich. Digit marches on two legs across the floor of the University of Michigan Ford Motor Co. robotics building, while Mini-Cheetah, in staccato form, does the same in fours. Meanwhile, yellow-legged Cassie deliberately walks from side to side.
A grand opening was held Tuesday for the four-story, $ 75 million, 134,000-square-foot complex. Three floors house classrooms and research laboratories for robots that fly, walk, roll and magnify the human body.
Upstairs are Ford researchers and engineers in the automaker's first robotics and mobility research lab on a university campus.
Together, they will work to develop robots and roboticists that help improve lives, keep people safer and build a more equitable society, the school and the automaker said Tuesday.
"As we all drive and use our vehicles and go about our daily lives, I'm sure we all have moments in our day when we could use a little help or a little help," Ken said. Washington, Ford CTO.
"We are going to work on drone technology, walking robots, roaming robots, all kinds of robots in this facility and the ways they can improve people's lives," Washington added. "And we will 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 will become with them."
The university's Ann Arbor campus complex brings together researchers from 23 buildings and 10 programs in a single space. Those working on two-legged disaster response robots can test them on a 30 mph treadmill studded with obstacles or on a tiered "robot playground" designed with the help of artificial intelligence.
Biomedical engineers are looking to develop lighter and more stable prosthetic legs. Ford engineers are exploring how vertical Digit robots can function in human spaces.
"We want them to be able to operate in realistic situations … You go out into the real world where there are rolling twigs," said Jessy Grizzle, director of the Institute of Robotics. "There are rocks. There are rocks. There are holes that you can't see because the grass is cut and then you want your robots to respond well and stand upright like a human would."
Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford and other automakers are investing billions of dollars in autonomous vehicles, and robotics are expected to play a major role in their development. Ford announced in February that it would increase its investment in autonomous vehicles to $ 7 billion, including detection systems and specific research in applications such as Digit.
In November, Ford unveiled plans to transform a long-empty Detroit book store into a hub for automotive innovation. Detroit's Corktown neighborhood is the site of Ford's $ 740 million project to create a place where new ideas of transportation and mobility are nurtured and developed.
People may one day see a Digit-like robot get out of a driverless vehicle, stroll through their gardens and drop packages on the doors of their neighborhood houses, according to Washington.
"This is an exciting proposition, especially in this post-covid era where the promise of shopping online has become something of the norm," he said. "As we think of a future where parcel delivery will be a part of everyday life, this is a real opportunity for us to pair a robot with an autonomous vehicle to help solve the problem of parcel delivery at scale."
"It is not here today, but you can be fairly certain that it will arrive 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 are not people and people are not robots, but we believe, together, that there can be synergy," Gallimore said. "So we're designing robots that will help you. First responders, for example. Can we put robots in danger so we don't have to have people there?"
Ford contributed about $ 37 million at the cost of the robotics building, which also features a three-story indoor flight zone for testing drones and other autonomous aerial vehicles, as well as a courtyard designed with input from scientists from the university and NASA. to test landing vehicles and concepts in a landscape that mimics the surface of Mars.
The University of Michigan and Ford are also working with two historically black universities in Atlanta, Morehouse and Spelman, allowing students to remotely enroll in a robotics pilot course.