Mobility Innovation in the Face of COVID-19

Kathleen Achtenberg

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

In response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) acted swiftly to expand existing initiatives and develop new relief programs to help small businesses, communities and entrepreneurs weather the immediate crisis, while continuing to look toward the economic recovery efforts that will enable long-term prosperity for all.

Building on these efforts, PlanetM, the mobility initiative of the (MEDC), transitioned its successful pilot grant program into the COVID-19 mobility solutions grant to provide funding to mobility solutions that address the crucial challenges presented by the spread of COVID-19 within the state of Michigan.

Through more than $280,000 in grant funding, technologies and solutions to provide mobility-related COVID-19 relief will be tested and deployed by five companies across southeast Michigan and Grand Rapids.

GHSP developed a first-of-its-kind mobile UV-C treatment, grēnlite™. Using high-and-low dose UV-C light, the system is able to sense when there are occupants in a shared vehicle space and will disinfect the air and high-touch surfaces following their exit, reducing COVID-19 and other disease-causing germs. As part of the pilot program, grēnlite™ will first be integrated into May Mobility’s autonomous shuttle fleet as part of the Grand Rapids Autonomous Vehicle Initiative. The pilot program will serve as a launching pad for additional projects throughout the state and beyond, including plans to integrate into EMS applications and police vehicles statewide in partnership with Life EMS and SoundOff Signal.

Pratt Miller will deploy an industry first Large area autonomous Disinfecting robotic vehicle (LaaD) at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids to combat the virus. LaaD is a first-of-its-kind connected, electric and autonomous disinfecting robot that will dispense FDA-approved disinfecting materials through a multi-head electrostatic sprayer array. The electrostatic technology sprays disinfectant into the air and adheres to surfaces for maximum virus protection, while the autonomous platform monitors and guarantees coverage through the use of sensors and data analysis.

Gatik is working with one of Michigan’s largest retailers to automate their on-road transportation network. The pilot involves deploying autonomous delivery vehicles on predetermined, fixed routes throughout Grand Rapids and Rochester. This partnership will help reduce human-to-human transmission channels of COVID-19 via contactless delivery, minimize personnel-based disruptions to the supply chain and transform the way groceries, health products and other everyday goods are sustainably delivered.

Penske Vehicle Services (PVS) and RCO Engineering have both undertaken efforts with the city of Detroit and its transportation vendor to develop temporary vehicle safety partitions. These partitions offer an additional buffer between transit drivers and back seat occupants for increased safety precaution.

“The resiliency and innovation that these companies are displaying in the face of this global pandemic will make a significant difference as our industry comes together to fight this virus,” said Charlie Tyson, technology activation manager at PlanetM.

Mobility solutions of the future

Prior to the global pandemic that put the world on pause for nearly three months, Michigan had already proven its prominence as the home to future mobility testing, manufacturing and deployment, largely due to its highly collaborative environment between public and private sectors.

The state’s world-class testing facilities and universities, highly -skilled talent and rich manufacturing and supplier base also makes it the ideal location for companies to bring their technology from ideation to deployment. In looking ahead to what future mobility will be in this new era, public-private partnerships such as this will continue to lead the way. Now through the COVID-19 mobility solutions grants, PlanetM is demonstrating just that – the power and potential of Michigan’s public-private partnerships in supporting the need for mobility solutions–both near-and long-term – will protect the health, safety and wellbeing of our communities.

Michigan’s history of resilience

In addition to the innovation that has spurred from PlanetM’s COVID-19 mobility solutions grant, Michigan companies – large and small – are stepping up to combat the spread of this virus in support of the state’s Arsenal of Innovation.

The Big Three, for example, have retooled their facilities to support COVID-19 response efforts by manufacturing personal protective equipment. Ford Motor Co. partnered with 3M to develop respirators and manufacture medical equipment for healthcare workers. General Motors increased production of face masks, sharing its plans with suppliers and the Michigan Manufacturers Association to help others ramp up their own production efforts. And Fiat Chrysler Automobiles manufactured and donated millions of face masks to those on the frontlines.

Automotive suppliers, like Magna and Meridian Lightweight Technologies Holdings Inc., are also helping to expand production of necessary supplies. And, outside of automotive, small businesses, supply chain manufacturers and even distilleries are stepping up to provide a united response in the face of this public health crisis.

The resilience, unity and ingenuity demonstrated by Michigan companies during this global pandemic dates back to Michigan’s legacy of putting the world on wheels more than a century ago and serving as the Arsenal of Democracy in World War II. And while we have a long road ahead of us, we have never been more proud to call ourselves Michiganders. Innovation, you could say, is within our DNA.

For more information about PlanetM’s mobility grant programs, visit Additional information on the MEDC’s COVID-19 response programs and the impact they are having on recovery efforts can be found online at

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