Ann Arbor Is Driving the Future
This Michigan city has taken the lead lap in autonomous vehicle development.
Ann Arbor reached a much-anticipated automotive milestone in fall 2021: May Mobility, with the help of several partners, launched A2GO, a new autonomous vehicle (AV) shuttle service. The on-demand vehicles link the Kerrytown neighborhood, the University of Michigan campus and the State Street corridor, ushering in an age of driverless cars in Ann Arbor and doing so through an ambitious project that connects the community.
The debut of the shuttle service is a shining example of how Ann Arbor is on the lead lap in advancing AV. Helping Ann Arbor solidify itself as a hub for mobility innovation is a critical mass of private companies, educational institutions and research organizations that have a shared entrepreneurial and collaborative spirit.
“Ann Arbor has an incredible DNA for creative types who are mission driven,” says Rohit Bery vice president of business operations and strategy and chief of staff at Ann Arbor-based May Mobility, a leader in AV technology development and deployment. Plus, he says, there’s no better place in the world than the Detroit-Ann Arbor region for finding the best talent to advance mobility innovations.
With more than 100 automotive firms located in the region, and a number of world-class facilities, Ann Arbor is well poised as a leader in this next chapter of automotive history.
Among the partnerships that led to the creation of the A2GO shuttle service was one with important Safety Technologies, an Ann Arbor startup that developed a mobile safety app that safely detects pedestrians, wheelchairs,
e-scooters, bicyclists and motorcyclists to protect them from collisions.
The critical mass of AV innovation taking place in the region has spawned collaborative partnerships, showcasing Ann Arbor’s opportunistic approach to advancing new mobility technology with a commitment to improving the quality of life for residents.
The A2GO autonomous vehicle shuttle service, for instance, is a result of May Mobility partnering across public and private sectors, from the high-tech incubator space to the testing facility to the community itself, Bery says.
May Mobility also partnered with Mcity, 4M, Ann Arbor SPARK and others on the initiative. The free shuttle’s fleet includes four hybrid-electric Lexus RX 450h vehicles (with three-passenger capacity) and one Polaris GEM fully electric vehicle (with capacity for one wheelchair passenger).
Leading Mobility Firms
Currently, Ann Arbor SPARK, the region’s lead economic development organization, is tracking 225 mobility-related companies in greater Ann Arbor. Beyond self-driving vehicles, mobility startups in the area are creating products and services, such as drone deliveries.
Plus, Ann Arbor SPARK has had conversations with several international companies, signaling that the region is a key player on the global stage when it comes to attracting and retaining mobility companies.
Ford Focuses on Robotics
Another major investment by Ford in the future of robotics is the new
Ford Motor Co. Robotics Building on the University of Michigan campus.
Part of the College of Engineering, the 134,000-square-foot, four-story complex has an entire floor dedicated to Ford’s first robotics and
mobility research lab on a university campus.
Autaza — a company headquartered in Brazil that provides quality control using computer vision and artificial intelligence — used SPARK’s business accelerator as a soft-landing space when it opened its U.S. subsidiary. Additionally, big names like Toyota, Ford, Subaru and Hyundai operate technical centers within the region.
In 2018, Ford chose Ann Arbor to open FordLabs, a software incubation group within Ford Motor Company that develops innovative software through human-centered design. Ford also acquired Quantum Signal AI, a tech company building solutions for autonomous vehicles headquartered in Saline, in 2019.
World-Class Facilities Drive Mobility Innovation
The Ann Arbor region is home to several world-class facilities that are driving mobility innovation.
The University of Michigan’s Mcity – which is the world’s first facility purpose-built for testing advanced mobility vehicles in a controlled environment – developed the cloud-based MCity OS that makes it possible for researchers to create and execute complex, sophisticated and easily repeatable test scenarios of connected vehicles, automated vehicles, and connected and automated vehicles.
The American Center for Mobility (ACM) in Ypsilanti was the first facility to license the technology. The ACM is a smart mobility test center providing a safe platform for the integration of emerging mobility technologies, and it has myriad real-world environments and diverse infrastructure that includes a 2.5-mile loop highway, a 700-foot curved tunnel, two double overpasses, intersections and roundabouts.
In July, Perrone Robotics signed a lease at the ACM to develop a smart mobility test center that will enable Perrone’s team to work on high-speed, long-term, and continuous testing of a wide range of transit vans, shuttles and cargo vehicles. ACM is now focusing on the rest of the campus and working with stakeholders to plan the next phases of build-out.
“The ACM continues to attract attention from innovators around the world who need access to the robust testing and validation capabilities it offers,” says Paul Krutko, president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK. “ACM’s location in the Ann Arbor region – an epicenter for the future of the mobility industry – makes it ideal for companies looking to grow, find new partnerships, and be inspired to push the envelope of possibility.”