Ford Motor Company and the University of Michigan recently jointly opened a new robotics laboratory on the North Campus, where both the university and Ford can improve their robotics research skills.
The Board of Regents first approved plans for the $ 75 million building in September 2016. Ben Manley, co-founder of Michigan Robotic Submarine, told The Michigan Daily that he is glad the university is investing and committed to robotics, especially as it becomes an increasingly important field.
“As an executive in a robotics student organization, it makes me, and probably other people in robotics, quite happy to know that the university is investing in robotics because it’s obviously an important part of engineering,” said Manley. “It’s cool to see some of the work that many of us think is so cool is getting so much into college focus that they literally built a building just for it.”
The building houses new classrooms, offices and laboratory space as well as a three-story flight zone for autonomous aircraft. Damen Provost, executive director of the university’s Robotics Institute, told The Daily the building was designed to encourage collaboration.
“The College of Engineering is really determined to remove those barriers to collaboration, and the robotics building was designed to work together,” said Provost. “The laboratories are all shared, the people all come from different departments. So it’s a big, long-term investment by the college to really break down the silos. “
Engineer David Baek, president of Michigan Mars Rover Team, a student organization dedicated to building rovers for alien land, told The Daily that the new facilities will give his organization a huge advantage over other school teams they are competing against .
“In the past few years we’ve done a lot of rough filming (of our Mars rover) on the Baja (race car) test track … It’s just kind of rocky, muddy terrain with hills that we used to drive on,” said Baek. “I don’t think any other school has a similar Marshof that is so close to (its own) campus.”
The classrooms in the new building have been designed to reach audiences outside of the university by allowing classes to be taught both online and in person. Robotics 101, a class designed to make robotics more equitable, was taught both in person and online for UM students by the UM faculty in the Fall of 2020 and will also be virtual for students at Morehouse College and Spelman College, two historically black colleges in Atlanta.
Jessy Grizzle, director of the Robotics Institute and professor at the College of Engineering, told The Daily that Robotics 101 aims to reinvent the way engineering is taught. The course differs from other engineering courses in that students do not need to have calculus skills that are not available at all high schools.
“Our basic requirement in building the course was that the talents were evenly distributed, but the opportunities weren’t,” said Grizzle. “We are able to design projects that replace exams that were quite challenging, but then let the math grow out of the knowledge of high school algebra. In the end, they worked on the same level as Math 214, with the math skills higher than what they would get in Engineering 101, for example, so students could see how real engineers use math. “
Ford is renting the top floor of the building to the university to do robotics research with UM researchers. This is the first time Ford has had a research facility in an academic building or on a university campus. Grizzle said Ford engineers working in the building will bring various aspects of robotics to the university.
“(We) are very used to working with our colleagues at Ford. They are highly skilled engineers, they may be a little more practical than the academics, but that mix is very powerful, ”said Grizzle. “The broad spectrum of research projects that we carry out at the institute is only becoming more diverse. We are very pleased about it.”
Grizzle also said Ford engineers working in the building will create new opportunities for students. He said this would be especially helpful for PhD students who need three three credit research experiences to graduate.
“Students don’t have to do an internship at Ford to work with a Ford engineer because we’ll have them on the fourth floor,” said Grizzle. “Some of our graduate students … who want academic training may want to be more focused on the particular types of research, and the fact that we can have a Ford member on a doctoral committee will be just amazing.”
The new building is located in the northeast corner of the North Campus near the Wilson Student Team Project Center, approximately one mile from the bus stop that connects to the Central Campus.
“North Campus will grow,” said Manley. “The bus routes grow better with you.”
The daily employee reporter Justin O’Beirne can be reached at [email protected]