October 26, 2023
Michigan Central and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) have launched a new initiative to accelerate commercial drone deployment in the state.
The Advanced Aerial Innovation Region project is being heralded as the first cross-sector, advanced aerial urban initiative in the U.S.
According to the partners, the project will help position the state as an aerial mobility leader by “attracting startups, catalyzing new high-skill jobs, advancing policy and driving commercialization and adoption of drone technology”.
Spanning a 3-mile radius around Michigan Central, the project will focus on establishing and improving commercial drone infrastructure and services. Drone operators will be able to test their devices across the region, with a particular focus on delivery use cases such as for medical supplies and manufacturing materials.
During the trials, the companies will be granted access to “concept and operational support” and Michigan Central will provide resources for foundational infrastructure, community engagement and skills training.
MDOT will manage the drone network and define operating parameters, such as safety protocols.
One of the initiative’s overall goals is to gain Federal Aviation Administration approval to fly drones beyond visual line of sight, helping to clear the path to more widespread drone deployment by allowing operators to fly drones without maintaining visual sightlines and enabling long-range drone deliveries.
The project is set to last two years, with initial pilots launching early next year.
“This first-of-its-kind collaboration with MDOT will be the framework that puts Detroit in the fast lane for advanced aerial innovation and job creation,” said Carolina Pluszczynski, Michigan Central’s chief operating officer. “As we start launching pilot projects next year, we will prioritize ideas that bridge equity gaps, improve safety and make it easier for people to access the goods and services they need.”
“This initiative and strong partnership will further reinforce Michigan as a global leader in the development and deployment of advanced mobility technologies,” said Bradley C. Wieferich, state transportation director. “Michigan is leading the development and implementation of a coordinated advanced air mobility strategy that will leverage Michigan's existing infrastructure, industrial and defense base, and supply chain networks to gain a competitive advantage in the sector.”
The initiative was partially catalyzed by a study from Michigan Central, MDOT and the Michigan Aeronautics Commission, which analyzed the socio-economic benefits of commercial drones.
“When scaled, drones will impact people’s day-to-day lives in direct and indirect ways that crewed aviation does not,” the study said.
“The study has also revealed that the adoption and advancement of drones for broad use cases can be directly integrated with other modes of transportation, reducing costs, and increasing benefits for all mobility solutions,” the team wrote.
“By applying the blueprint across the drone integration framework, Michigan can build an infrastructure that provides a platform where operators, public organizations, communities, and customers are able to work together in building a sustainable drone ecosystem that reaches its full potential in generating the broad benefits of drones socially, environmentally and economically.”
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