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Ford partners with UMichigan to accelerate autonomous vehicle research


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The automaker will have a team of researchers and engineers at the university’s North Campus Research Complex by the end of the year.

Ford and the University of Michigan are collaborating in an effort to develop the latest autonomous vehicle technology with a new state-of-the-art robotics center.

The automaker will be moving a team of researchers and engineers to the university’s North Campus Research Complex and the new robotics laboratory is slated to open in 2020.

Ford University of Michigan partnership - autonomous vehicles

Ford will co-locate and work side-by-side with University of Michigan researchers in a new state-of-the-art robotics center. Photo courtesy of Ford.

The announcement comes as part of a series of actions by Ford in a push toward having fully autonomous SAE-defined level 4-capable vehicles available for high-volume commercial use in 2021.

“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.”


The 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.

Professors Matthew Johnson-Roberson and Ram Vasudevan will serve as leaders of a new autonomous vehicle research team comprising graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers.

Dr. 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. Dr. 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,” said Vasudevan. “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.”

The university’s College of Engineering also named Professor Jessy Grizzle as Director of Robotics. Dr. Grizzle serves as the key liaison between Ford’s autonomous vehicle research program and the College of Engineering.

Ford will benefit from the partnership by having access to technical leaders in the industry as well as being located near Mcity – a one-of-a-kind urban simulation test environment in Ann Arbor – where the automaker became one of the first to being testing its self-driving cars. Ford will also triple its fleet of autonomous research vehicles.


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