Over the past few years, Ford has filed a litany of patents involving drones, including ideas for an unmanned aerial vehicle sanitation system, an unmanned aerial vehicle integration system, a vehicle-mounted aerial drone container, a drone close proximity operating system, a moonroof docking system for unmanned aerial vehicles, drone flights over public roadways, a landing platform for UAVs, a drone elevator system, and an air to ground last-mile delivery system. At the same time, the automaker has been exploring ways to utilize drones throughout its operations, teaming up with Drone Delivery Canada on a new research endeavor that tests an automated drone as it tracks and lands on a moving ground vehicle within a specific flight arena, as well as using drones to keep track of inventory at the Valencia Engine plant in Spain. Now, as work at the Michigan Central Station site continues, Ford has begun a drone delivery test program there, too.
Spearheaded by the Michigan Central and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), this new pilot program is officially called the Advanced Aerial Innovation Region, an initiative that aims to position that particular state as the leader in next-generation aerial mobility and drone technology. The idea is to attract more startups to the Michigan Central site, advance policy concerning drones, generate high-paying jobs, and drive the commercialization and adoption of drone technology.
The two-year project covers a three-mile radius surrounding Michigan Central, enabling commercial drone development and participating vendors to deliver medical supplies, consumer goods, and manufacturing materials to nearby entities when the program launches early next year.
Newlab and Airspace Link will support activation and development of the drone program at Michigan Central, while the latter outfit will provide resources for foundational infrastructure, community engagement, and skills training, and MDOT will manage the network and define operating parameters, as well as data and safety protocols. “This first-of-its-kind collaboration 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.”