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Over $450,000 in Mobility Tech Grants Awarded in Michigan

PlanetM, which is an arm of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, awarded these grants to six companies that are seeking to launch mobility pilot projects soon somewhere within the state.

A new round of grant funding in Michigan is accelerating the development of several mobility projects in areas that include drones, car-pooling, roadway data collection and more.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. recently announced the latest round of its PlanetM Mobility Grants, awarding more than $450,000 to six companies to fund pilot projects across the state. The aim of the grant program is to drive innovation and accelerate the advancement of “new mobility solutions,” said Amanda Roraff, who leads the PlanetM Mobility Grant project.

“But really, when we get down to the gist of it, what we’re trying to do is solve real problems for real people. We like to say we’re solving problems for Michiganders," Roraff said. "And in some cases, those problems are unique. But in many cases, they’re not. The idea is, if we can solve the problems here, and create new solutions, those would be scalable globally."

PlanetM, an arm of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. that takes on mobility initiatives, awarded that funding to Propelmee, Aveopt, GoKid, Intvo, Aerotronic and AKTV8.

The grant team was looking for first-of-their-kind ideas, said Roraff. But also, “looking for pilot deployments that are statewide.”

The project should also have the ability to continue on past the pilot life cycle. 

Propelmee, based in the United Kingdom and awarded $100,000, is developing autonomous vehicle technologies that do not depend on 3-D high-definition mapping.

Aveopt was also awarded $100,000, and its goal is to explore software systems that support drone technology. The company is based in Traverse City, Mich. Interest in drone usage was a trend that become clear during the process. Art Kahn, CEO of Aveopt, noted in a statement that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is widely envisioned as a disruptive technology over the next 15 to 20 years.

“What we’re finding is we are receiving several more applications than we originally anticipated for drone testing and deployment,” Roraff said. “There’s a high demand for more drone testing and drone deployment.”

GoKid, which is based in New York City, was awarded $90,000. GoKid is a smartphone app used to coordinate student carpooling.

“The grant will enable us to offer this to schools at a greatly reduced fee,” said Ashley Clark, co-founder and chief operating officer for GoKid. "Schools that work with GoKid will be given a secure platform for their student families to locate others with whom to share school driving responsibilities.”

The pilot grants — which this year came to $1.3 million for the several rounds of funding — were geared toward helping the companies prove out the technology, solve real problems, “in hopes that we can eventually help them scale their technology and their solution. Or, pivot, if necessary, and learn from it,” said Roraff.

The process was also geared toward connecting the companies with government agencies like the Michigan Department of Transportation.

A similar partnership between Ford and PlanetM is spearheading an effort to learn more about the transportation challenges in and around the Corktown neighborhood in the area of Detroit's historic Michigan Central Station, which Ford is spending some $750 million to restore.

The recently launched City:One Michigan Central Station Challenge also wants residents, businesses and community groups to propose pilot projects that might improve transportation around the historic train station.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.