Norwegian Mobility Company Makes Ford’s Book Depository Its First U.S. Location
The company that has developed the world’s first autonomous wheel, now has its first U.S. location – the Book Depository of Ford Motor Company’s Michigan Central development, providing the type of innovative tenant the project was designed to attract.
wheel.me, based out of Oslo, Norway, produces an autonomous robot wheel that provides a new form of mobility flexibility in automation.
The innovative technology has major implications in industries from advanced mobility manufacturing to health care to logistics as it can be attached or mounted to any object, quickly converting the existing infrastructure into autonomous robots.
“Many manufacturers currently use automated guided vehicles and automated mobile robots which are robots in themselves. It’s much more rigid and costly, and if you decide to change up your operation within a manufacturing facility, it’s harder to do so” said Rasmus Noraas Bendvold, wheel.me’s U.S. Managing Director, who will oversee the new location in Detroit.
wheel.me’s innovation provides its customers greater flexibility because it doesn’t require a major facility rebuild to implement robotic or automated technology.
Three Types of Automated Wheels Working Together
wheel.me uses an automated wheel, equipped with a computer and cameras, to map the desired territory and then set up a mission with different location stops and destinations. A route back and forth throughout a facility bringing parts to an assembly line at the right time and location, for instance.
Once a mission is created there are three types of wheels equipped with various cameras and sensors that are affixed to items that need to be automated. The main wheel, which serves as the brain of the product has a computer that dictates movement and turns, according to Bendvold.
“Supporter” and “follower” wheels, the number dictated by weight capacity, are then also attached, and provide a 360-degree view of the object, feeding information back to the main wheel as it leads the automated journey.
Picking Detroit over Boston or Pittsburgh
In selecting Detroit, wheel.me connected with the Detroit Regional Partnership (DRP) to explore expansion in Southeast Michigan.
In that process, having major mobility players like Ford and Google served as a big draw to Michigan Central, as wheel.me looks to serve and expand its North American customer base from the new location.
“The focus of the area with autonomous robots, mobility, robotics, and all the other companies that will be in the same building or neighbor buildings is very attractive for us,” said Bendvold. “I think that the Michigan Central will be a hub for international businesses looking to the area”.
The DRP provided assistance with site selection, incentives, talent and other local support.
“Michigan Central and the Book Depository will very quickly prove to be a magnet for world-class innovators” said Maureen Donohue Krauss, president and CEO of DRP. “We are proud to have helped wheel.me navigate their site selection process for their first step outside of Norway. Our region is the center of advanced mobility and revolutionizing how the world moves, it makes so much sense for them to be here”.
In assessing its options, the company chose Michigan over competing sites in Pittsburgh and Boston.
“There’s so much knowledge in Detroit and around Michigan within manufacturing, we think that this is a nice spot to be in terms of attracting talent relevant to us” Bendvold added. “And since we have traction to the automotive industry, it’s where our biggest customers are. We want to be really close to them, and in this region — we will meet a lot of them”.
The project received a $240,000 Michigan Business Development Program grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and is expected to generate nearly $1 million investment and at least 40 jobs.