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New Mobility Neighbors Moving into Corktown

Tech Companies to Design Mobility Infrastructure Under Ford

Looking up at Mcihgian Central Station from the front // MICHIGAN CENTRAL STATION PHOTO AMI NICOLE / ACRONYM

Ford Motor Company is moving into Corktown and bringing some friends along with it. On May 20, Accessible Street Studios, a collaboration between Ford’s Michigan Central and a technology networking company called Newlab, announced a cohort of seven businesses coming to town to try to develop solutions to challenges Detroiters face regarding mobility and transportation.

The companies have a wide range of focus, from robotic delivery systems to universal charging networks, to electric vehicle carshare programs. One company, Solartonic, is a Ypsilanti-based business that designs a variety of solar-powered products for purposes like lighting and WiFi access points. In 2020 it was contracted to develop public lighting for Highland Park.

Projects developed by the cohort will be launched in Corktown, North Corktown, Mexicantown, and Hubbard Richard with the agenda of bridging transportation gaps, creating safe streets, promoting the access of mobility information or making transportation systems intuitive and interconnected, and developing better means for access to important resources like grocery stores.

Shaina Horowitz, VP of Product and Programs at Newlab says that

The goal is to use the pilot period as a chance to test technologies and new solutions, we do not anticipate making permanent infrastructure changes as part of the Studio activities.

A few of the pilot projects we might expect include a navigation app for visually impaired people that uses audio guidance, an electric car-sharing service, and solar-powered digital signs.

The cohort will work with Projects and People, a Detroit-based project management company to support planning and engage with the local community. In an interview with WDET, Founder and Chief Strategist James Feagin said that people living in Detroit neighborhoods, who have stuck it out “ought to be a part of not just the conversation but the work that’s being done.”

Newlab says it believes that public transportation options in Detroit can be far away from one’s final destination making them a non-viable method of mobility. Instead, there should be additional options to navigate neighborhoods. A Flint-based company called KUHMUTE works to create shared fleet systems of transportation similar to Spin or Lime. However, it also creates infrastructure to charge and harbor the vehicles. KUHMUTE contends that this will relieve the familiar congestion and clutter caused by discarded scooters. The charging docks also work for personal electric vehicles.

In addition to creating better means of travel, Accessible Street Studio seeks to achieve its goals by making services better available to residents in their own homes.  One of the companies in the cohort that may set out to meet this objective is Kiwibot. Kiwibot is a robotic delivery system utilizing units manufactured in China and assembled in Berkeley, California. They are largely used for food delivery but have about a cubic foot of cargo space and can be adapted for other things.

The cohort will begin the process of finding ways to adapt its technology to Detroit this summer with hopes to deploy it soon.