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DETROIT — Michigan Central and MIT Mobility Initiative announced today that they have partnered to advance solutions to key mobility challenges surrounding electric vehicles and drone technology.

MIT Mobility Initiative — a global platform to accelerate a safe, clean and inclusive mobility system through research, education, entrepreneurship and engagement — will conduct two research projects in and around Michigan Central, a 30-acre site advancing mobility-focused technologies in Detroit centered around the restoration of the city’s iconic train station. The studies are slated to begin this fall and conclude after one year. The first will focus on the optimization of electric-vehicle charging infrastructure when deployed widely in urban environments, helping to advance the adoption of the technology worldwide. The second will focus on modeling where drone flights are likely to concentrate and where the corresponding infrastructure would be built in order to understand the potential equity impact of different future scenarios.

“Our society is facing a range of urgent and unprecedented challenges — from climate change to lack of equitable access to transportation — that will require innovators, entrepreneurs and designers from the private and public sectors to come together,” said Carolina Pluszczynski, COO of Michigan Central. “A key component of Michigan Central’s strategy is to build the physical infrastructure needed to advance mobility innovation. MIT Mobility Initiative researchers will have the opportunity to leverage the Michigan Central infrastructure, including the charging stations, to validate the inputs that go into the models they are developing. These models will yield best practices for optimizing deployment of charging infrastructure at scale.”

Advancing Charging Infrastructure to Enable EV Adoption at Scale

Electric vehicles are crucial for the global transition to sustainable transportation, yet scaling EV adoption has proved challenging due to a lack of widespread charging infrastructure. In particular, like many lower-income communities nationwide, much of Detroit faces significant hurdles to accessing EV charging and other future-forward infrastructure. In addition to patterns of historic underinvestment in certain neighborhoods, many low-income residents of Detroit park on the street, lack a garage, and do not have access to in-home or streetside chargers installed by public- or private-sector entities.

To address this gap, the partners are launching the Equitable EV Charging Network study — led by MIT School of Management faculty members Alex Jacquillat, assistant professor of Operations Research and Statistics, and Daniel Freund, assistant professor of Operations — to develop analytical models and data-driven recommendations to support the development of more efficient, reliable and equitable charging infrastructure. The researchers will investigate key questions, such as where to locate public electric-vehicle chargers in an urban setting and how human behavior can inform how many and what type of chargers should be used in which locations. Satellite data and real world data from the chargers at the Bagley Mobility hub at Michigan Central will then be utilized to validate and optimize the real-world feasibility of the model’s original recommendation.

Michigan Central is providing the test site and infrastructure that will enable MIT Mobility Initiative researchers. The world-class testing infrastructure provides a variety of renewable energy sources including level 3 and 2 EV charters, including bidirectional and inductive charging capabilities that future proof for alternative energy sources.

Michigan Central is committed to offering the physical infrastructure and services – including community engagement and skills development courses – that will lead to innovation and economic development. Michigan Central is projected to attract thousands of new jobs, and offers programs to ensure Detroiters gain the skills necessary to participate in the growing mobility sector. Through the creation of much-needed equity focused workforce training solutions for professionals at every educational level — from those with high school diplomas to PhD-trained technologists — Michigan Central is focused on making sure that the companies that need talented workers have access to them, and that those interested in mobility and innovation have a clear path toward careers. Furthermore, the campus will offer collaborative workspaces, residential areas, dozens of acres of green and open space for the community, as well as retail and hospitality space.

“The MIT motto, mens et manus, refers to the importance of going beyond conducting purely theoretical research by applying it to address real-life challenges and transforming the world around us for the better. Collaborating with Michigan Central on this important research enables us to apply our findings and, therefore, accelerate the transformation toward a safe, clean and inclusive mobility system,” said John Moavenzadeh, executive director of the MIT Mobility Initiative. “Detroit’s legacy as a leader in innovation makes it the ideal location to power the development of next-generation mobility. We envision furthering this work through a long-term partnership between Michigan Central and the MIT Mobility Initiative.”

Enabling Equitable Access to Advanced Aerial Mobility

The partners will also begin a second research project focused on enabling equitable access to advanced aerial mobility (AAM) services. In coming years, it is expected that global efforts to bring to market innovative airborne services — from essential services such as first responder flights and drone delivery of lifesaving medications, to commercial ones such as real estate photography or commuter air taxis — will continue to ramp up. The project — led by Hamsa Balakrishnan, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — will aim to investigate the potential adverse impacts these services may have on certain communities, and how to design AAM infrastructure and operations to ensure more people can benefit from them. Grounded in the ongoing work of Michigan Central’s existing network of aerial mobility startups and testbeds, the research team will assess a range of possible real-world use cases for these next-generation aerial technologies and the effect they could have on Detroit, and aim to develop generalizable approaches and metrics for evaluating inequities in AAM operations and access.

Michigan Central counts several leading technology companies as major partners, including Google and Newlab. Last year, Google joined Ford as a Founding Partner at Michigan Central, with the goal of training Detroiters for high-tech jobs and collaborating to solve significant mobility challenges. Google’s Code Next program enrollment will grow to 100+ high-school students by October 2023 with an emphasis on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous populations, and provides computer science and other technical skills training. Our partnership with Google also enables us to utilize Google Cloud to power innovation at the intersection of mobility and society at Michigan Central. And this past April, Michigan Central celebrated its official launch with the opening of Newlab Detroit’s headquarters at the Book Depository building, the first building completed in Michigan Central’s campus. Newlab at Michigan Central is developing a center of gravity for startups, entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists building breakthrough companies in Detroit.