By Amanda Roraff, Co-founder, AV Mobility Corridor Team at Ford Motor Company
In 2018, Bill Ford announced plans to bring the shuttered Michigan Central Station back to life. It would become the centerpiece of a new innovation district designed to attract talent and companies from all over the world to help develop and scale new urban transportation solutions that would improve mobility for everyone. That same day, he also shared a vision for a smart, connected corridor between Detroit and Ann Arbor where companies could test and deploy their solutions in a real-world environment. While the development of the Michigan Central mobility innovation district is in full swing even during a global pandemic, we are pleased that just over two years later, Bill Ford’s vision around a corridor would also become a reality through an alliance between the state of Michigan and a new startup, Cavnue.
On August 13, 2020 with the iconic Michigan Central Station as a backdrop again, Bill Ford, Michigan’s Governor Whitmer, Detroit’s Mayor Duggan, and several other dignitaries gathered – socially distanced and masked – to announce the Michigan Connected Corridor, a first-of-its-kind connected and automated vehicle corridor between Detroit, Ann Arbor and Detroit Metropolitan Airport. A two-year feasibility study would evaluate the technology, route, policy, financing, operations and design of the corridor, with the expectation of a prototype along a small stretch of roadway by 2022.
A connected and automated vehicle corridor, or CAV-C, is expected to accelerate the adoption of autonomous vehicles by supporting the deployment of smart infrastructure that will communicate with SAE Level 2+ vehicles to create a safe hands-free, eyes-off experience. While the corridor is not planned to accomplish this on day one, there are tremendous efficiencies that can be obtained right away. One of the first users of the Michigan Connected Corridor is expected to be public transit, where smart infrastructure can help improve reliability and accessibility along the route.
With the largest vehicle-to-infrastructure technology deployment in the United States, highest concentration of engineers, and home to over 22 automotive OEMs, Michigan is poised to lead this effort. Michigan is the first state in the union to name a Chief Mobility Officer, establish an Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, and launch PlanetM, a statewide mobility-focused brand and business development initiative focused on accelerating the future of mobility. And now Michigan will be home to the future of roads.
At Ford, we’re excited that Michigan Central Station will be a potential stop along this connected corridor. We see it as an extension of our mobility innovation ecosystem that will help attract talent, global technology companies and startups – allowing the ideas and solutions born in our district to scale quickly.
The most important aspect of a connected and automated vehicle corridor however, is how it will benefit the communities along the routes. The Michigan Connected Corridor, Cavnue’s first initiative, has the potential to:
- Expand access to transportation – increase access to personal and shared mobility options
- Accelerate economic development – connect communities & small businesses to Southeast Michigan’s most important industrial, technological, and academic clusters
- Improve safety – reduce traffic crashes caused by human error
- Reduce congestion – cut the growing hours commuters spend in traffic
- Increase productivity – offer eyes off/hands off experiences
- Improve sustainability – coordinated CAVs will improve fuel efficiency
While Cavnue is deeply committed to the Michigan Connected Corridor, it also has plans beyond the region. Cavnue intends to develop the corridor model and scale it around the United States, with the vision of establishing a CAV-C industry standard. Today it’s Detroit to Ann Arbor, but imagine a day when it’s Detroit to Chicago and Austin to Los Angeles – safer, more efficient and hands free.
With a $1+ trillion infrastructure funding deficit and dwindling gas tax revenue, we need to find new ways to not only fix our roads today but ensure we future-proof them for tomorrow. With the partnership between Cavnue, Michigan Department of Transportation, Ford, University of Michigan, American Center for Mobility and many others, public-private partnerships will shape the future of infrastructure innovation.
Back in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, Ford was involved in standardizing the highways that we know today, but it’s time to create new standards around smart infrastructure. As we look to the future to manage challenges such as congestion and equitable access to transit, we believe it’s important to take a collaborative approach, working closely with cities and states, public transit, private industry, and other OEMs to help solve complex mobility challenges and shape the future together.