Ford and the University of Michigan are teaming up to accelerate autonomous vehicle research and development with an arrangement that embeds Ford researchers and engineers into a new state-of-the-art robotics laboratory on U-M’s Ann Arbor campus, according to the car giant.
While the new robotics laboratory opens in 2020, by the end of this year Ford will move a dozen researchers into the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC).
The announcement is the latest in a series of actions by Ford as it moves toward having fully autonomous SAE-defined level four-capable vehicles available for high-volume commercial use in 2021. Autonomous vehicles are part of Ford’s expansion to be an auto and a mobility company.
“Ford engineers and researchers will begin working shoulder-to-shoulder with U-M faculty and students to test and learn about autonomous vehicle technology and innovation,” said Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO. “We are aiming to show the world what we can achieve when leaders in business and academia work together to make people’s lives better.”
Ten years into the Ford-University of Michigan Innovation Alliance, the two parties have agreed Ford will lease the fourth floor of the new robotics laboratory. It is an approximately 140,000-square-foot building east of the university’s Space Research Building.
The planned robotics laboratory will have space where machines walk, fly, drive and swim. The building will house labs, offices and classrooms, continuing a tradition of robotics leadership at U-M that includes the creation of MABEL, the world’s fastest-running robot with knees.
By locating a team of more than 100 employees on campus, Ford benefits from being close to technical leaders as well as facilities, such as Mcity-an urban simulation test environment in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Ford has been testing autonomous vehicles for more than 10 years, last fall becoming the first automaker to begin testing at Mcity. It also is tripling its fleet of autonomous research vehicles this year – making Ford’s fully autonomous vehicle fleet the largest of all automakers.
Ford and the University of Michigan also announced professors Matthew Johnson-Roberson and Ram Vasudevan will serve as leaders of a new autonomous vehicle research team, composed of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers.
Both professors, who began collaborating with Ford earlier this summer, bring a wealth of autonomous vehicle research experience, according to Ford. Johnson-Roberson is an assistant professor of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and has worked in autonomous vehicles since the first DARPA Grand Challenge in 2004. His research focuses on robotic systems perception. Vasudevan is an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering with a background in robotics and next-generation automotive technologies.
“We’re at the point where you are beginning to see the positive impact driverless cars could have on people’s lives,” Vasudevan said. “Sometimes, the challenge for us as professors and engineers is knowing what the relevant research problems are that need to be addressed to guarantee the success of autonomous vehicles. Working closely with Ford gives us the data and equipment to better understand and resolve the challenges that lie ahead.”