Michigan, Tops For Robots At Last Count, Hopes To Keep Rising With PlanetM

Jeff Kart (Forbes)

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Detroit has long been known as the Motor City. Maybe “Michigan: the Robot State” will catch on?

Officials here are touting a rise in robotics as efforts continue with using advanced machines to keep people safe from the coronavirus ... and transitioning to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Michigan was leading the nation with nearly 28,000 robots, 12% of the nation’s total, in the last report by the Brookings Institution in 2017. These days, a growing initiative called PlanetM is investing in the future of mobility, says Trevor Pawl, chief mobility officer for the state’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification.

Detroit is known for its automobiles. Now they’re calling it mobility?

“At its core, mobility is about providing solutions to real-life transportation challenges and ensuring equitable access to those solutions,” Pawl explains.

“Our goal is that the future of mobility enables safer, more accessible transportation options for the residents of our communities, including access to underserved and disabled individuals.”

Michigan is two years into an $8 Million Michigan Mobility Challenge, which provided funding to eight projects aimed at solving mobility gaps for seniors, people with disabilities and veterans throughout the state.

A City:One Challenge announced earlier this year also brought together residents with public and private industries including Ford Motor Co., PlanetM and the city of Detroit to identify transportation challenges and propose new ways to improve mobility in their communities.

One of the latest innovation examples here is from product development company Pratt Miller, which received a $50,000 grant from PlanetM (and $2.1 million funded through Michigan’s Mobility Challenge) to launch a first-of-its-kind Large area autonomous Disinfecting (LaaD) robotic vehicle at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids.

As with many things lately, this is part of an effort to combat COVID-19. The LaaD will dispense Food and Drug Administration-approved disinfecting materials through a multi-head electrostatic sprayer array and is set to officially launch this week.

Planet M is part of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. or MEDC. But this doesn’t mean robots will replace workers.

Pawl points to stats from the World Economic Forum that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in fields that don’t yet exist.

“That’s a huge, and for some people, frightening number,” he says. “But technology and manufacturing advancement is something we’ve seen repeated throughout our history, particularly in the workforce.”

The latest transition is being called Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution: the convergence of digital and physical technologies disrupting the manufacturing industry.

“Throughout the past three industrial revolutions and throughout our modern day history,” Pawl adds, “the workforce has continuously changed and adjusted to new technologies and the new robotic abilities that are being realized more recently will be no different.”

The view is that Industry 4.0 provides more opportunities to enhance job prospects than eliminate them with new innovation, increased global trade and an improved worldwide quality of life.

And that the shift in skills needed to welcome in a new era of product design and advanced manufacturing will create a safer, greener and more productive world. That means more robotics and automation will create alternative jobs and new industries for tomorrow’s workforce.

Along these lines, Michigan is using PlanetM as a business development tool and concierge service.

The PlanetM initiative offers a number of resources to mobility companies looking to test, refine and deploy their technologies in Michigan. Everything a company or entrepreneur would need from coming up with an idea to testing and producing it is located in one place, Pawl says of the Great Lakes State.

“That is a unique factor that only Michigan has to offer. Michigan was one of the first to legalize self-driving vehicles, including ride-sharing series on public roads, and is home to the largest connected infrastructure (from vehicle-to-infrastructure to vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology) in the U.S.”

PlanetM has facilitated more $91 million in investment since 2017, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said earlier this month.

Mlive.com notes that Pawl gave a TEDx Talk on the future of mobility in 2018, imagining what Michigan would look like in 2068.

This article was originally published at forbes.com

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