Driven – Mobility Moment: Amanda Roraff, PlanetM

PlanetM advances mobility business development in Michigan, the state where the American automobile was born, but why is Michigan such a great place for mobility innovation?

Michigan is home to more AV testing sites than anywhere in the world. It’s a very unique environment.

That was Amanda Roraff, operations manager with PlanetM. She’s my guest today on Driven’s Mobility Moments Podcast and we’re talking about grant funding available for piloting new mobility innovation and for testing at three of those mobility-centric advanced testing facilities she just mentioned.

Stay tuned and learn more about these grants and about a special December 11th event that you can take part in. I’m your host, Claire Charlton.

Amanda, welcome to Driven’s Mobility Moments Podcast. I’m looking forward to talking with you about PlanetM and some of the initiatives that are happening with PlanetM this year.

Thanks for having me Claire. I’m really excited to be here and talking about PlanetM and our initiatives.

Can we first talk about what PlanetM is?

Absolutely. PlanetM was a marketing tool essentially for the state of Michigan about two and a half years ago and it really was launched to showcase all of the mobility assets in the state of Michigan. There are a lot that people that didn’t realize that the future of mobility was already happening here, and there were some assumptions about who was leading the effort, and we wanted to make sure it was really clear that it was happening here in the state of Michigan. So it quickly evolved into a business development tool for the state, which is what we are today.

We’re also still doing quite a bit of advertising and marketing to various markets globally, but today what we do is our business development team really focuses on three things.

We focus first on asset coordination, and really what that means is we make sure that there’s platforms, various different platforms, for the various stakeholders in the state of Michigan to be able to communicate and collaborate with one another.

The second thing that we focus on is company connections, and we do that in a variety of ways. Most importantly we hold match meetings throughout the year at various events. The next one that’s coming up will be during the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, it’s called AutoMobili-D. It’s a really, really cool initiative. We launched it last year and held over 350 one-on-one meetings with various stakeholders including startups, corporates, investors, universities, and many more.

Another way that we focus on company connections is holding mobility meetups every other month at WeWork Merchants Row, which is downtown Detroit. Which is also home to the PlanetM Landing Zone, which is where our office is located, but it’s also a place where we sublease the space back out to global mobility companies. So, as of today, we have about 35 member companies including corporates and startups.


Yeah, it’s really exciting. Very vibrant place.

And then the third thing that we focus on is technology activation, and that’s I think where we want to spend a little more time today talking about. But what that really means is that we are focused on trying to find different ways and being creative is particular through public private partnerships to help deploy these mobility technologies in Michigan.

Okay. So we are talking specifically about PlanetM Startup Grants, is that correct?

Yes, that is correct.

So this is something that’s brand new. Let’s talk about these. Why did PlanetM establish these startup grants?

Great question. So we started these startup grants because as we were speaking to global mobility startups, which PlanetM has in many ways become an attraction tool for global mobility companies around the world, and what we were finding is that they knew that they wanted to be able to access the infrastructure here within the state as well as companies, as I mentioned previously. So this was really a way for us to help them deploy their technology and test their technology in Michigan to incentivize them to do so and also break down the barrier of cost.

Okay and so there are two categories for these PlanetM Startup Grants. The PlanetM Testing Grant and the PlanetM Pilot Grant. Can you differentiate between those two? Tell us what those are about.

Absolutely. As of today, we have $1.3 million dollars. The grant runs from October 1st, 2018 through September 30th of 2019, and the reason we split it up that way is because from a testing perspective, Michigan is home to more AV testing sites than anywhere in the world. It’s a very unique environment.

So we had partnered initially with three different sites. One’s called American Center for Mobility based in Ypsilanti, it’s the former Willow Run where the B2 bomber was built. It’s a 500-acre test site for various different types of technologies and mobility, the future of mobility technologies. Then there’s also Mcity which is located at the University of Michigan’s campus and that’s about a 50-acre test site. Then we also partnered up in Flint with the Kettering GM Center, which is about a 30-acre site up there as well.

So it’s a great way and what we found in talking to these global mobility companies is that one of the barriers really was cost to testing. It can be quite pricey compared to what a large corporation might be comfortable being able to invest in. So this was really a great way for us to help offset that cost. So we will fund up to 75 percent of the cost to test at one of those three sites today.


And the second leg to the grant is around pilot deployment and that’s about a million dollars of the expense. As you can imagine, it takes quite a bit of investment to be able to deploy technology, particularly when you’re still in a phase where you’re past R&D and, but you really need to deploy it. So you have to work with new partners that are new to the technology as well. There’s a lot that goes into it to deploy the technology. So with that, our goal is to deploy at least 10 pilot grants in the 12 months of this particular grant.

Okay. So can you tell me about what sort of company would be a good candidate to apply for especially that second type of grant, or actually either one?

Yes, of course. There’s many, many different types of mobility companies that could apply for this grant and we intentionally made it broad so that it wasn’t prescriptive so that various companies who are coming to the table, maybe with something that we haven’t thought of before, or hadn’t explored, or a company we hadn’t worked with in the past, we wanted them to bring new ideas and innovations to the state of Michigan. So there’s really not a limit.

We define mobility as connected, automated, shared and electrified. So really it’s a very broad definition for mobility and that’s very intentional on our part. So the companies that have already applied so far, as a matter of fact, just this week we’re announcing our first three grant recipients. I’m really excited to announce that today as well.

The first one will be HAAS Alert located in the city of Grand Rapids. The second one will be a company called Humanising Autonomy in the city of Ann Arbor, and the last one will be a company called RoadBotics and that will be deployed in the city of Detroit. So there’ll be more information coming soon on that, but we’re really excited about our first three grant recipients.

Wow, that’s really exciting.

Yes, yes. We’re really excited. The one in Grand Rapids is going to be with HAAS Alert. It’ll be a first of its kind deployment and it is a connected alert system between police, fire and EMS that will alert oncoming drivers that there is an emergency situation and to slow down. But what’s even more interesting, really cool stuff, is they’re going to be partnering with a local hearing impaired group to work on an alert system for the hearing impaired who are shared use drivers, such as Uber or Lyft drivers.

Oh, that’s great.

Yeah. We’re really excited to be able to fund some of these interesting technologies.

So can we talk about another company that is currently testing its innovation on Michigan roadways? I think I’m talking about Derq.

Yeah, yeah.

And was Derq a PlanetM grant recipient in any way?

They were. So Derq was actually, and when I say this week we are announcing our first, I actually misspoke. Our first grant recipient was Derq. They’re a Dubai- and Detroit-based company that went through Techstars Mobility Accelerator two years ago, a really interesting technology. They’re deployed in downtown Detroit at one intersection, it’s actually the most dangerous intersection in the city of Detroit. It’s right where the tunnel to Canada opens up there in front of the RenCen. So it’s a very busy intersection and their technology can actually help detect and prevent car accidents before they happen, and particularly focused on pedestrian avoidance as well.

So that was in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation and we deployed that technology last spring as we were developing the grant. So they were in part our guinea pig to help us build out the grant and understand how it might work and what the benefit to the startup would be, and to the partner as well.


One of the requirements as a grant applicant is to come to the table with a partner in place. So that partner might be an entity such as MDOT, the Michigan Department of Transportation. It could be a municipality like Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Detroit, like our three other grant recipients as well. It could be a large employer who potentially is trying to solve a parking problem for their employees.

So the partners can be very broad and again, we will fund up to 75 percent of the cost to deploy. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we will cover up to 75 percent of the cost of what the proposal suggests that the cost will be. So sometimes it will require that the startup and their partners need to come to the table with more than maybe what they initially thought of, but it’s a great way for them to help identify partners and deploy their technology in Michigan.

So they need to come with a partner organization plus 25 percent.

A minimum of 25 percent. Yes.

Okay. Good to note. All righty. Can we talk about the special event coming up really soon to promote applications for these grants?

Absolutely. So we’re really excited to announce that we are hosting a PlanetM Startup Grant informational session and webinar on Tuesday, December, 11th at 12 noon eastern time. That will take place from 12:00 until 2:00.

For those that are arriving in person lunch will be served from 12:00 to 1230 and then we’ll kick off the webinar at 12:30 and it’ll last about 90 minutes. We’ve got a great lineup of panelists. I will be going into great detail as far as much more detail even here on the podcast about even some of the do’s and don’ts on the application. So really helping people to define, who are potential applicants, define what makes up a really strong application.

Since we’ve gone through one round now we’ve really helped even fine tune and understand better what our needs are and what we need to understand. So it’s an opportunity for our team to be able to share more about what a good application looks like and what a winning application looks like, of course.

Then we’re also going to have representatives from Mcity, American Center for Mobility, and Kettering that are going to talk about their test sites and talk about what the benefits are of testing at those locations as well. So I think it’s a great way for the startups to really better understand some of the testing ecosystem that exists here in the state as well.

Then we’re going to have MDOT and Derq on the panel as well to talk about their experience as being the first grant recipient. So we’re really excited they can talk through some of the things that they’ve learned as well in the process and help us and help future grant recipients better understand what might go into a deployment.

So this is really a great opportunity because I can imagine just because you come up with a great innovation doesn’t necessarily mean that you already have the grant writing skills to get funding to test that innovation. So this is, it sounds like just a really great informational session for these organizations.

Absolutely and if anybody’s considering applying for the pilot or testing grant, I highly recommend that they participate. Even if they can’t come in person, just jump on the call for 90 minutes. I think you’re going to learn a lot. You’ll be able to still ask questions remotely as well, but I also think it’s a great opportunity for people to attend in person in that you’re going to have all of the right people in the room to be able to talk to before and after the event as well, and to be able to answer those tough questions. Sometimes it’s a question that maybe you don’t feel like it’s something that you want to put in front of a large audience. So we’re going to be there to answer those types of questions afterward as well.

Okay and did we say where the in-person event was?

The event on December 11th will be held at the NextEnergy Center in Midtown Detroit and to register for the event, anyone can go to It’s the featured event on their website and it’s really quick and easy. It’s a free event, free registration, and just we just ask if you’re going to be attending remotely or in person so that we can order lunch appropriately.

Right. Oh, well, of course. That’s important.

Yeah, it’s going to be a good lunch. We encourage you to attend in person.

Awesome. Is there anything else that you want people to know about PlanetM, about the grants that we talked about, or the event?

A couple more things just about the PlanetM Startup Grants, for anyone to learn more information I highly also recommend that you go to and click the learn more button. At that point you’ll be prompted to set up an account. The account doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than you’ll be able to access all of the information that you need to be able to begin to frame your application.

The application itself is there, so you can open that up and see what the questions are. The terms and conditions are there. There’s also a downloadable sheet on Mcity, American Center for Mobility, and Kettering, so you can learn more about those test sites as well.

Then this last thing I want to mention as well is the deadline. So we are deploying the testing grant on a monthly basis. So we will evaluate applications the first of every month for the testing grant. For the pilot grant, it’s running differently on a different timeframe. We’re deploying that grant in three rounds, so we’re just in the middle of round one now. So that deadline application was October 1st. The next deadline is February 1st and then the last deadline will be June 1st.

So I just want everyone to understand that they do definitely have some time, so I think it’s a great opportunity to attend this event in December, on December 11th, and then be able to build out your application over the month of January to get it in by the February 1st deadline.

Great. Important information. Thank you so much Amanda. It’s been really interesting talking with you and I’m really excited to learn more as these grants are awarded and as we learn more about the organizations that are testing and piloting innovations using our Michigan roadways as well as our testing facilities. It’s really exciting.

Yes, we’re really excited about it as well. It’s really a wonderful thing for the state to be able to offer to global mobility companies. So thank you so much for having me here today, Claire.

Thanks Amanda. Have a wonderful day.

You too. Thank you.


Join us at Driven to find the links to register for the December 11th PlanetM Startup Grant informational session and webinar and have all of your Michigan mobility news come right to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter. Driven is at Thanks for listening. I’m Claire Charlton. See you again soon.