Auto show and downtown Detroit share identical tech-happy future
Downtown Detroit and its annual auto show share a rapidly evolving identity as a home to tech start-ups. Overlooked mostly until now, this trend represents a big change for both.
The North American International Auto Show no longer is just about sedans and trucks. Now it offers a growing menu of mobility-related start-ups in its AutoMobili-D display. Dozens of little start-ups with weird names, almost twice the number as at last year’s show, provide everything from autonomous driving software to artificial intelligence systems to curb accidents.
In the same way, downtown Detroit — long the home of banks, law firms and government — is quickly morphing into a technology showplace.
At Ford Field, the TechStars Mobility accelerator has nurtured 33 transportation-related start-ups from six countries in the past few years. Another 10 start-ups now find a home at the Landing Zone, a mobility hub inside the WeWork co-working space on Woodward Avenue. TechTown, the accelerator at Wayne State University, houses many more.
And this is in addition to Quicken Loans, with its 17,000 tech-savvy employees, as well as downtown offices with hundreds more for Google and Amazon. Traditional employers may still get the majority of headlines, but things are changing fast.
And there’s overlap between downtown and the auto show. A start-up named Derq at the Landing Zone on Woodward displays its technology this week at AutoMobili-D. The firm develops artificial intelligence (AI) that will monitor behavior at intersections and send near-instantaneous signals to vehicles to avoid accidents.
Derq (the name was chosen at random) could represent the global nature of downtown’s new economy. Georges Aoude, Derq’s CEO, was born in Lebanon, got his PhD at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, bases his firm in Dubai, and now has an office in Detroit, where he’s working with the city to test his AI system.
Then there’s EcoG, based in Munich, Germany, which went through TechStars Mobility at Ford Field. The firm helps create electric charging stations at shops, gas stations, office buildings and other locations. It offers the potential to vastly increase the market for electrified vehicles by turning virtually any location into a charging station.
Such start-ups represent the way we’ll live tomorrow, said Glenn Stevens, director of MICHauto, a gaggle of mobility-related efforts under the wing of the Detroit Regional Chamber.
“If you look at the way this industry is changing, Michigan has to evolve with it. Detroit has to evolve with it,” he said.
Ted Serbinski, managing partner of Techstars Mobility at Ford Field, made a bold prediction to an auto show audience Sunday — that in a dozen years, software and services will produce more profits for the industry than vehicle sales.
“I think what’s amazing about (AutoMobili-D) is this is just a small tiny sliver in the grand scheme of things, but as we look at the next 20 years, my guess is the auto show is going to change from less about car announcements and more about tech announcements,” Serbinski said.
Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, echoed that.
“It’s a big part and it’s a growing part,” Baruah said of AutoMobili-D on the show floor Monday. “It’s the convergence of the (industry) with start-ups and next-generation mobility. That’s why Detroit’s going to own this market if we play our cards right into the 21st Century.”
Yes, the newest cars and trucks upstairs on the main show floor get the vast majority of the publicity this week. And maybe that’s as it should be, given that the industry still sells some 17 million vehicles a year.
But it’s all those futuristic mobility displays on Cobo’s lower level at AutoMobili-D — 57 start-ups this year from 11 different nations — that are edging into the limelight. Collectively, they employ about 750 people and have raised $150 million in venture capital.
Want to meet more? Here are a few others:
Caaresys, from Tel Aviv, develops monitors in a vehicle to detect heart rate, respiration and other bio-markers to determine how many people are in a vehicle and their status — awake, sleeping or under the influence. That will help in the autonomous vehicle world to come.
Parkofon, based in Alexandria, Va., offers an automated “park-and-go” system that detects when a vehicle arrives in a parking garage or lot and then triggers payment. No more fussing with tickets or credit cards after a game or concert.
ReviverAuto is showing off what it bills as the world’s first digital license plate. It’s RPLate allows all sorts of improvements over the traditional stamped-metal plate: streamlined vehicle registration, personalized license plate designs, targeted marketing messaging, emergency alert broadcasting, vehicle tracking and toll collection.
And AirspaceX of Detroit shows off its electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft — a drone — for on-demand passenger mobility and logistics work.
Some of these start-ups will get gobbled up by much bigger firms like Ford or GM that are voracious for breakthrough technology. Some may go bust, outgunned by other firms.
But some may grow into the next big thing. And when they do, bet on some of them doing that in downtown Detroit. It’s the shape of things to come.
Posted By: Detroit Free Press on January 16, 2018. For more information, please click here to read the source article.
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