Michigan mobility startups filled the streets of Ann Arbor on June 7 during Mobility Row, the final event of Ann Arbor SPARK‘s weeklong A2Tech360 tech summit. Occupying a downtown block of Washington Street, Mobility Row showcased some of Michigan’s mobility startups in an up-close-and-personal format.
Together with Tech Trek, Mobility Row was part of an afternoon open house-style event that encouraged students, job seekers, and the tech-curious to take an inside look into the many tech-based companies in Ann Arbor. Here are a few highlights we noticed at this year’s Mobility Row.
With a footprint the size of an Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) bus, Techstars Mobility Accelerator alum Humanising Autonomy was on hand to demonstrate its pedestrian intent prediction platform. The product senses pedestrians and other vulnerable road users (VRUs), such as people using wheelchairs, strollers, bicycles, or scooters. It then provides real-time information to the driver about how vehicle-aware the VRU is likely to be at any given moment.
VRUs appear on a computer screen with bubbles above their heads that are color-coded to indicate their awareness. For example, a pedestrian who is looking at a smartphone has a red bubble, which alerts the driver that the pedestrian is distracted and likely not aware of any oncoming vehicles. Pedestrians with their heads up and eyes open have a green bubble. Raunaq Bose, co-founder and chief technical officer, says the platform is based on behavioral science. Humanising Autonomy won a PlanetM Pilot Grant award in December 2018 to test the platform on AAATA buses.
Novi-based Danlaw, Inc. showed off a vehicle equipped with connected technology similar to that recently tested in Macomb County’s police and first response vehicles. The county was selected for its advanced connected infrastructure and network of roadside units, which communicate with connected vehicles.
“Macomb County is further ahead than any place in the area,” said Scott Morell, vice president of engineering at Danlaw. He said the company is also testing vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity in Ann Arbor, and similar technologies in Manhattan.
Transportation users on the University of Michigan’s North Campus are already familiar with the pod-like 11-seat autonomous shuttles that roam the roads there. The company behind this pilot is NAVYA, a French startup that manufacturers its all-electric vehicles in Saline. NAVYA was first introduced to North America at the University of Michigan’s Mcity after taking part in an accelerator delegation from France called Ubimobility.
Today NAVYA has two shuttles running on pre-mapped routes at U-M, while one shuttle remains at Mcity, busily engaged in testing activities. NAVYA’s pilot on U-M’s campus will end at the close of 2019, and the company is running similar programs in Montreal and Switzerland, according to NAVYA marketing coordinator Sydney Reinholt.
Video capture of pedestrians and other VRUs is at the heart of Intvo, an Ann Arbor startup that is building data to help autonomous vehicles better predict on-road human behavior. On display at Mobility Row was a vehicle equipped with a rooftop camera designed to record pedestrians, cyclists, and other VRUs. That data will help inform the artificial intelligence that autonomous vehicles will eventually rely upon to avoid collision in real time.
Unlike last year’s Mobility Row, which showcased several bicycle-centric mobility solutions, two-wheeled transportation was noticeably absent this year – with the exception of Spin. Ann Arbor had a rocky start with dockless electric scooters, pulling them from city streets almost as quickly as they hit the ground in 2018. But this May, Ann Arbor announced a deal with Ford Motor Company-owned Spin to put about 200 scooters on the streets.
A promotional flyer for Spin says the company wants to promote “streets that are physically designed and managed to support safe, enjoyable, and viable environments for people, and not vehicles.” That includes rethinking rules to make public spaces “slower, safer, and more welcoming for all.” The agreement between the city of Ann Arbor, U-M, and Spin reportedly involves no-ride zones, including campus sidewalks and other geofenced areas. A reported collaboration between Spin and California-based Swiftmile will also pilot 10 solar-powered docking stations where the scooters can recharge and await riders without becoming a trip hazard.