New U-M robotics building named in honor of Ford Motor Co. gift


The four-story, 140,000-square-foot robotics facility slated for North Campus will be named the Ford Motor Company Robotics Building. 

This is in recognition of a $15 million gift from the company to the College of Engineering. Ford also has previously agreed to establish an on-campus research laboratory on the fourth floor of the new building.

The Board of Regents approved the naming Thursday. They approved the lease for the fourth-floor laboratory in September.

The funding will go toward construction and acceleration of the $75 million project to a completion date of late 2019, rather than winter 2020.

“We thank Ford for this exceptional investment in the future — the future of robotic technologies and in the coming generations of visionary faculty members, students and industry engineers who will make these advances real,” said Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering.

“Robotic technologies can keep us safer, improve our quality of life and enhance human capabilities. This gift reinforces Michigan’s leadership position in enabling the future of robotics.”

Ford and U-M have a long partnership. The company is the single largest corporate donor to the university, supporting more than 50 units across the university over the decades. The company also sponsors a broad collaborative research portfolio through the Ford/U-M Strategic Alliance with faculty across the university.

“At Ford, we have a robust plan to lead in autonomy, and this investment accelerates our work by providing dedicated space for robotics research on the U-M campus,” said Raj Nair, executive vice president, Ford Product Development, and chief technical officer.

The Ford Motor Company Robotics Building 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, and high-bay garage space for self-driving cars.

And, in a unique agreement that was announced in September, Ford will lease the fourth floor to become the company’s first research laboratory located on any university campus in the country. 

When the building opens, U-M will become one of an elite few universities with a dedicated robotics facility. The state-of-the-art facility will be located near Mcity, U-M’s simulated urban and suburban environment for safe, controlled testing of self-driving and connected vehicles.

The Ford/U-M Strategic Alliance is the university’s most expansive industry research collaboration, involving faculty in multiple schools and colleges on the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses.

The Ford/U-M autonomous vehicle project is the largest university research effort Ford has sponsored on any campus, and the largest industry-funded research project at U-M. The research Ford and U-M performs through this alliance contributes significantly to the goal of making mobility safer and smarter through autonomy, researchers say.

U-M is one of the top suppliers of talent to Ford, company officials say. During the 2015-16 academic year alone, Ford hired 160 students and alumni to internships or full-time positions.

“Ford’s co-location on the Ann Arbor campus will only enhance the extraordinary pipeline of talent,” said Ken Washington, vice president of Ford Research and Advanced Engineering.

“Our investment will also enhance our already strong collaboration in autonomy and robotics by establishing an enduring footprint to propel our research partnership forward. Together, we will continue our leadership in advancing mobility.”

This gift supports the university’s ongoing Victors for Michigan campaign, which includes a goal of raising $1 billion for student support.


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