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Construction won’t be completed on Michigan Central Station until 2022, but the mobility innovation district around the iconic landmark is already coming to life with transportation pilots designed to serve the community.

This summer, residents of Corktown will begin to see technologies being tested in the neighborhood by cutting-edge innovators selected to address Detroiters’ mobility needs through the Accessible Streets Studio, an innovation studio formed through a partnership between Ford’s Michigan Central development and Newlab, a community of experts and innovators applying transformative technology to solve the world’s biggest challenges. The Studio’s goal: to address transportation challenges and bridge accessibility gaps in the community.

In 2020, the Studio reached out to the community near the Michigan Central Station, to hear what they had to say about their experiences moving around the city, day-to-day: the mobility challenges Detroiters face, the gaps in public transit, and the improvements they wanted to see. The Studio hosted conversations and workshops with residents, community organizers, policymakers, and researchers. It also ran a diary study in which residents from neighborhoods across Detroit described their daily journeys, both before and during the pandemic, and then followed up with interviews to gain a better window into key local mobility issues.

The vision for Michigan Central is a vibrant and inclusive mobility innovation district that brings together the best minds from Ford, Detroit, and around the globe to develop, test and launch new solutions to solve real world mobility challenges. And partnership with the community is a critical to ensuring that the mobility solutions in the district benefit everyone.

Four key themes emerged from the Studio’s research in Detroit: bridging transportation gaps, improving access to essential resources, fostering safe and welcoming streets, and better access to timely, relevant mobility information.

The Studio put out an open call to companies on the frontier of innovation, inviting them to come to Detroit to develop their technology, with input from residents of the Michigan Central area. From a robust field of applicants, the Studio selected seven companies for its inaugural cohort: two from Michigan, along with teams from California, Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida, and New York.

The company teams will soon be running their pilots on the streets around Michigan Central Station, with technology that aims to directly address local needs:
Soofa signs will offer better, more timely mobility information on first-of-their-kind, solar-powered, e-ink displays.
Kiwibot will improve access to essential services with robotic deliveries.
Lazarillo will offer an audible navigation app for people who are blind or visually impaired, and connect them with services at home.
Sway Mobility will expand local mobility options with an electric vehicle carshare program.
Solartonic will work to improve street visibility through its solar-powered smart poles, which also provide WiFi access.
Numina will help local planners better understand how all residents move through the streets of Detroit – not just cars.
And Flint’s KUHMUTE will offer a universal charging network for anything smaller than a car, such as e-bikes and e-scooters.

“The Accessible Streets Studio is laser-focused on identifying innovative solutions to help improve urban life for everyone,” says Julie Roscini, who leads the Michigan Central development’s external engagement strategy for Ford. “And it’s fitting that this first cohort is prioritizing the diverse neighborhoods around Michigan Central.”

The Studio’s goal is to make a meaningful contribution to improving mobility, not just in Detroit, but around the world. The feedback and insights shared by Detroit residents through the pilot projects will help develop next-generation technology that may make life better for people across the globe. Their voices will also be part of an important shift in how innovation is done, by influencing who innovators listen to as they develop the technology of the future—not just for some, but for all.