A Robot on Four Wheels: Alum-led Mobility Startup Delivers the Future

Anyone working in mobility design today will tell you that the user’s needs are paramount — coupled with an overarching concern for how any form of transportation affects the natural environment. Vehicles must be functional, sustainable and have the ability to anticipate and address the many ways they might be used. But what if we eliminated altogether the idea of a vehicle as a “vehicle”? What if a new product class, a device not a vehicle, could deliver information and not just things? That’s the premise behind Quadrobot, a mobility startup in Madison Heights, Michigan, led by CEO and CCS alumnus Mike Tianye Wang (’12, Transportation Design).

Quadrobot was founded in September 2017. A year later, Mike Wang returned to his alma mater with a sponsored project, the primary way that CCS creates real-world studio design environments and helps its students make valuable connections to industry leaders. “We gave Dong Wu a sponsored project and asked him to do something specific to Quadrobot business objectives,” said Wang. “We wanted him to come up with a business plan, integrated with the design, that is really executable.” Wu began at Quadrobot as an intern while he was still a graduate student in CCS’s MFA Transportation Design program. After graduating in 2018, he works full time for the company as project manager.

Now, Quadrobot U1 — designed and engineered in southeast Michigan — a 47-hp, four-wheel-drive, all-electric delivery device is set to debut in late 2019 in cities along the southern coast of China delivering and picking up mail. Approximately 2,000 U1s are part of the initial rollout in China, with another 30 going into trial later in the year in metro Detroit. The vehicle will be fully autonomous (once regulations permit) and will follow human carriers along “the last mile,” delivery routes in neighborhoods and downtowns.

“It’s the height of green manufacturing, which is best for the environment, said Joe Buick, the company’s vice chairman. “The idea is that Quadrobot have zero emissions.” Toward this end, the device has no welds and, much like a pre-fab house, can be assembled at the site of service.

CCS faculty member John Manoogian, a former teacher of Wang’s who sits on the board, is set to take on the role of design director for the company. And in March of this year, Dave Acton, former chief engineer of General Motors’ OnStar® system, joined Quadrobot as a board member and will offer his considerable expertise to the company.

Quadrobot employs three other designers — Yanghaobo Wang, Jonny Yuxin Wang (all unrelated) and Dong Wu — all of whom are graduates of the College for Creative Studies. Asked why he came back to the College to find his entire design team, Mike Wang replied, “CCS is unlike any other design school. It teaches students to combine a business model as part of the design. And unlike the fantasy designs common at a lot of other schools, CCS designs tend to be very realistic.”