While ordering up an autonomous vehicle to take you to work or a driverless tractor-trailer to move a load of goods may seem far off, a new era of mobility is closer than many believe. Google’s Waymo autonomous car project is already a decade old. Chevrolet’s self-driving Bolt made its road debut in 2018. And, in 2017, a first-of-its-kind border crossing by two semi-autonomous vehicles from Michigan to Ontario required collaboration between governments and competing auto technology companies, Continental Corporation and Magna International. 

Many features of mobility’s future are already in the marketplace. For example, advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) like brake assist, crash avoidance, and adaptive cruise control already save lives. In fact, ADAS technologies have the potential to prevent 40 percent of passenger-vehicle crashes, according to AAA Foundation research. And initiatives like Audi’s Silvercar, an app-based rental solution, show how we’ll move from an ownership model to shared mobility and on-demand models for accessing transportation.

Moving Toward a More Mobile Future

But truly moving toward a mobile future takes broad-based collaboration between public and private sectors, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and startups, says Seun Phillips, director of PlanetM, a Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) initiative that acts as a no-cost concierge to global mobility companies, plugging them into the mobility ecosystem to accelerate innovation in the space. Smart vehicles will mark a significant shift to electric-powered transportation and help satisfy the increased demand for efficient, sustainable transportation.

The race for first-place in introducing a fully autonomous fleet of vehicles is intense, says Michael Noblett, CEO of American Center for Mobility (AMC). Artificial intelligence (AI) software plays a crucial role, operating as the vehicle “brains,” he says. Sensing and detection software, the technologies vehicles need to map and “see” varying environments, is also crucial. Noblett notes that this marketplace is booming as technology companies work to develop the solutions OEMs need.

Helping Mobility Thrive

Smart vehicles are only part of the story. They will be part of an ecosystem of connected roadways equipped with cameras and sensors, using big data to facilitate communication and logistics. This requires internet of things (IoT) technologies and fast, reliable telecommunication networks, like 5G. Connected infrastructure is crucial for testing, and for the roll out of connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) and intelligent transportation systems (ITS). Regulation and legislation will also need to keep pace with the fast-changing technologies.

Jake Sigal, CEO of Tome, a Detroit software services company and leader in mobility technology, says there are two types of people: those who have already been in an autonomous vehicle for a demo, and those who will be. But a few things need to happen before we will see significant adoption of new mobility models.

To mature successfully, the mobility sector needs a combination of collaboration and testing, as well as regulatory and legislative support. In 2016, Michigan’s legislature passed a series of bills making self-driving vehicles legal on Michigan roads, allowing companies to grow and test technologies in real-world conditions. Michigan is a strong proving ground, as it has the most connected miles of roadway in the U.S. and access to an abundant pool of engineering and research and development (R&D) talent.

Powering Mobility’s Future

The future of mobility does not depend on a single organization, but a committed, multi-entity partnership. By facilitating collaborations between automotive companies and startups, communities and educational institutions, and government agencies and private organizations, Michigan’s Economic Development Corporation and, specifically, its PlanetM initiative, bring new technologies to market faster.