ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Digit and Fluffy have a new place to play.
Ford Motor Co., which has previously experimented with robots such as a biped package carrier named Digit and four-legged plant assistant called Fluffy, this week opened a four-story, $75 million robotics building in partnership with the University of Michigan.
The 134,000-sq.-ft. complex on the university's north campus in Ann Arbor features a three-story Fly Zone for drones, high-speed treadmills with obstacles, an outdoor robotics "playground" and an area called the Mars Yard, which mimics the red planet's surface so researchers can test rover and lander concepts.
"It's a Disneyland for robots," Mario Santillo, Ford's robotics research lead, told reporters. "All of this is because we're increasingly seeing robots do useful work for society. Our presence here, along with the University of Michigan, allows us to be on the leading edge of this trend."
The auto maker said the new space will bring together academics currently spread across 23 buildings. Ford will occupy the building's fourth floor with about 100 research and development employees.
Ford officials said they will use the space to continue researching ways robots can interact with vehicles or aid workers at its manufacturing facilities.
"This is an integral part of our plan and playbook," said Ken Washington, Ford's chief technology officer. "What the market is teaching us is that we have to bring new services and experiences that customers feel like they can't live without. There's a huge opportunity to integrate robotic solutions in automation technology that we're bringing for both retail and commercial customers."