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Ford Challenge Will Spur Mobility Innovations in Detroit

The automaker is partnering with the city of Detroit and other organizations to find mobility solutions that directly and uniquely improve the quality of life of residents and businesses in the area.

by / July 8, 2019
Mobility challenges in the Corktown neighborhood in Detroit will be the focus of the City:One Michigan Central Station Challenge. Shutterstock

Ford is leading the 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 the company is spending some $750 million to restore.

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

Ford and PlanetM, a mobility initiative organized by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., will award $250,000 to selected pilot projects. The city of Detroit will also participate, connecting the Ford City:One Challenge team to residents, studying the research data, testing some of the conclusions and aiding in the selection of the pilot projects to participate in the program.

In addition to Detroit, the challenge will engage the residents of Austin, Texas; Indianapolis, Ind.; and Mexico City.

“On a larger scale, this is one effort out of a number of efforts that are going on in the Corktown neighborhood that fits within our overall Greater Corktown Neighborhood Framework Plan,” said Mark de la Vergne, Detroit's chief of mobility innovation.

The idea behind the challenge, say organizers, is to find mobility solutions that directly and uniquely improve the quality of life of residents and businesses in the area.

“What I love about this particular challenge is actually the smaller size of it,” said Trevor Pawl, senior vice president of business innovation at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The City:One program starts by partnering with the local government.

“We sit down, we kind of identify, what are the policy goals and objectives that they’re looking to, to achieve related to transportation,” said Aniela Kuzon, global lead, City of Tomorrow Challenge at Ford, speaking during the Internet of Things World conference in mid-May in Santa Clara, Calif.

The concept starts with engaging residents and community members to learn how they’re experiencing transportation to identify what’s working and what’s not working. The program launched last year in partnership with AT&T, Dell and Microsoft, focusing on three cities: Grand Rapids, Mich.; Pittsburgh; and Miami.

About 330 teams submitted their ideas last year. The list was winnowed down to about 35 finalists across the three cities to further develop those ideas into pilot proposals. At the end of the challenge, Ford awarded up to $100,000 to pilot projects.

One of the pilots funded was called PikMyKid in Miami, a platform which sets up an interactive way to communicate between parents and teachers to solve the chaotic dismissal process.

The solutions and ideas that come forward can be tech-focused, or not.

“I think we’re not limited to just, lets say, an app,” said Pawl. “We’re not limited to artificial intelligence to solve a particular problem. The answer could be, some sort of new infrastructure. Maybe it’s a new type of bus stop.”

“I think this gives us a chance to put our foot in the water, to see if the answer is a physical infrastructure solution, or a technology solution,” he added.

“Transportation mobility is a very personal experience,” said de la Vergne. “And the challenges I face might be different from the challenges you face, on a daily basis. So, what I really like about the process Ford and the City:One team use is, really doing the discovery work, to be able to elevate a lot of hidden challenges that I may not experience day-to-day.”

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Skip Descant Staff Writer

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 Sacramento.

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