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U-M student named to national list of innovative young people in manufacturing

A 19-year-old University of Michigan (U-M) student is the youngest person named to Manufacturing Engineering magazine's 2017 list of notable young people in the manufacturing field.

 

The magazine's annual "30 Under 30" list honors young people in the manufacturing field who show initiative and innovation, set high goals and meet them, have experience working the shop floor, and give back by encouraging young people to pursue STEM education and manufacturing as a viable career choice.

 

Joshua Cukier, who was the recipient of an SME Education Foundation Scholarship, already had experience with his high school's robotics team before arriving at U-M. Once at U-M, he picked up hands-on experience with computer-aided design programs as a member of the Human-Machine Interface subdivision of the Michigan Formula One Hybrid Racing Team (MHybrid).

 

Cukier says he is interested in both reforming the old-fashioned image that manufacturing has and in pushing the boundaries of conventional manufacturing processes.

 

"I'd like to see more younger people getting into manufacturing and being innovative," Cukier says.

 

He says that technologies like autonomous vehicles or artificial intelligence get a lot of press, but what many don't realize is that manufacturing techniques have to be updated to support these new technologies.

 

"As those evolve, the mechanical components that make that a reality must be created new as well," Cukier says.

 

Cukier is currently in his second summer as a manufacturing engineering intern at Falcon Lakeside Manufacturing in Stevensville, Mich., a supplier of die-cast parts. Cukier says that, as an intern, he's been given latitude to experiment and come up with new models and layouts, study industrial robotics, and develop a plan for automating work sequences (called "machining cells") usually done by hand.

 

Cukier says he is interested in how both robotics and additive manufacturing (also known as 3-D printing) technologies can be pushed even further in manufacturing.

 

"In the past 3-D printing has been a bit of a novelty, but it's getting to the point now that it's more feasible to use it with fewer defects," he says.

 

Robotics in manufacturing is nothing new, but Cukier says he thinks more flexible robots that can be easily and quickly reprogrammed and moved around factory floors will revolutionize the industry.

 

Cukier says one of the best things about a career in manufacturing is seeing components or processes you designed being used out in the real world.

 

"The biggest thing is seeing the impact of what you've made in everyday life," he says. "At Falcon, we're making little pieces for electric car batteries, and when I see a Volt go by, I can say, 'I helped with that.'"

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Joshua Cukier.


U-M invests $600,000 in advanced transportation technologies

A radar system for autonomous cars and a 3-D printer that prints electrical wires are among seven projects that recently received a total $600,000 in investment from the University of Michigan (U-M).

 

The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Innovation Hub for Advanced Transportation (MTRAC) awarded $100,000 grants to five technologies, and two more received $50,000 each. That's up from a total of four projects that received MTRAC funding last year.

 

Eric Petersen, U-M MTRAC program director, says the program's oversight committee of industry experts make funding decisions based on the perceived risk and value of each project. Sometimes project leaders are asked to address the committee's concerns before being awarded an additional amount. The two technologies that received the lesser amounts will have the chance to get an additional $50,000 after reaching specific milestones set for them by the committee.

 

A high-frequency radar technology for autonomous vehicles was one of the projects receiving $100,000. Radar is able to see through rain and bad weather, Petersen says, and at highway speeds this technology would give an autonomous car more time to see and react to obstacles.

 

Another technology receiving $100,000 deposits diamond-like coatings onto cylinder bores to reduce friction in engines and, as a result, reduce fuel consumption. While the six other technologies came from U-M, this project came from Michigan State University's Fraunhofer Center for Coatings and Diamond Technologies, a collaboration between the university and the German government.

 

A third technology involves building complex electrical assemblies with 3-D printing. The technology can print wires made of conducting material on the same printing head as plastic parts.

 

"This is going to change the way that parts are designed," Petersen says.

 

A fourth technology makes wireless power transfer in electric vehicles more efficient and flexible, Petersen says. Technology already exists to charge electric cars wirelessly, but these chargers can be fussy if the car isn't positioned just right.

 

"This technology can allow for different distances from the charging base to the bottom of the car, and different alignments," Petersen says. "It allows for lots of variability while still getting high efficiency."

 

The final technology receiving $100,000 is Your Own Planner, a travel planning search engine that is more flexible and provides lower-cost and more efficient itineraries.

 

"Instead of defining dates and locations, the technology asks for motivations, intentions, and constraints, and then develops a few different options for the user," Petersen says.

 

One of the projects receiving $50,000 is technology related to enhanced object recognition in robotics. Some robots use a laser to make a cloud of all the objects around their sensors, Petersen says.

 

"This proposal is an improvement on this method, so you get more information from the laser about what it bounces off of and back to," he says.

 

The second project receiving $50,000 is a system that improves the ability of autonomous vehicles to sense and interpret large amounts of data in real time while also consuming less power. The new technology compares and consolidates information from several different types of sensors, which reduces the computing load.

 

"There might be a bike that the radar sees, and a camera sees, and a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sees. This technology compares that information quickly, and when the sensors all agree, the computer tracks it as a bike rather than as three different sets of data," Petersen says.

 

More information about the program and past awardees is available at the MTRAC website.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.


Eric Petersen photo courtesy of Eric Petersen. Mcity photo by Doug Coombe.

Saline joins local autonomous vehicle industry with French automaker's arrival

Washtenaw County's reputation as a hub for autonomous vehicle research and development got another boost with the announcement that French company NAVYA will soon begin manufacturing its ARMA autonomous shuttle vehicles at a production plant in Saline.

 

NAVYA's electric ARMA shuttles seat up to 15 people. About 45 of them are in use around the world to date. Eventually, autonomous vehicles may operate on the open road, but currently most applications of the ARMA vehicles are focused on smaller, enclosed areas, such as providing shuttle service in an amusement park or around the campus of a large hospital complex. NAVYA expects the North American market for this type of vehicle to explode in the next three or four decades.

 

NAVYA first became interested in the southeast Michigan region after Ann Arbor SPARK hosted a French mobility delegation in 2015.

 

"They were interested in exploring the U.S. market and were exposed to the stuff happening in Mcity and the American Center for Mobility and generally automotive culture in southeast Michigan," says Phil Santer, senior vice president of business development at SPARK.

 

The city of Saline already has a core of international businesses, including a couple other French companies, and a solid tech business community. Santer says that created a "pretty welcoming atmosphere" for NAVYA.

 

"Places like Saline are hitting above their weight class," Santer says. "There's so much technology and innovation going on, and you don't find such really interesting things going on in another community of similar size somewhere else."

 

The French company wanted to settle somewhere in the greater Ann Arbor area, Santer says, in part because "we have a heritage of having a reliable supply chain for automotive vehicles." NAVYA officials decided that the 20,000-square-foot facility at 1406 E. Michigan Ave. in Saline, formerly warehouse space for American Soy, would best meet their needs.

 

NAVYA is expected to make about $1 million in capital improvements and create about 50 jobs. As a result, the company netted a $435,000 Michigan Business Development grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

 

"This certainly adds to Saline's technology cluster, and we hope this will be a driver and validation point for other international mobility startups to invest in the greater Ann Arbor area and around Michigan," Santer says.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.
Photos courtesy of NAVYA.

Ann Arbor defense contractor develops autonomous-vehicle spinoff at SPARK Ypsi

Having adapted its military artificial intelligence work to Ann Arbor's burgeoning autonomous-vehicle industry, Soar Automotive recently "graduated" from the Ann Arbor SPARK East business incubator in downtown Ypsilanti.

 

Soar Automotive is a less traditional tenant for a business accelerator. The company is a spin-off of Ann Arbor's Soar Technologies and used the business accelerator as a temporary office space while it searched for a permanent home.

 

Soar Technologies provides contract research and development work for the U.S. Department of Defense, applying artificial intelligence techniques to military problems. Spin-off Soar Automotive will adapt some of those same technologies to the field of self-driving vehicles, says Soar Automotive president Andy Dallas.

 

"We focus on developing technologies that emulate human behavior," Dallas says. "Like human drivers, the technology can deal with imperfect data, project into the future what may be happening, and adjust its driving based on that. It deals with complicated situations more robustly than other approaches you hear about."

 

Dallas says an ex-employee of Soar Technologies had used SPARK's business incubator in Ypsi and recommended it when Soar Automotive was conceived of as a spin-off business.

 

"We needed a place to stay while we were looking for real estate, and that ex-employee spoke well of the Ypsi facility, and we liked what we saw," Dallas says.

 

The spin-off used the incubator for office space from February through early May, when the company moved out of the incubator and into its current space at 1665 Highland Dr. on the south side of Ann Arbor.

 

Dallas says Soar Automotive currently has six employees and may double its staff in the next six months. Staying in the Ann Arbor region made sense for a number of reasons. Dallas says many of Soar's existing employees live in Ann Arbor, and Ann Arbor is an attractive community to live in for new recruits as the company prepares to hire more employees.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photo courtesy of Soar Automotive.


China's Camel Energy to add 41 jobs with new Pittsfield Township R&D center

Chinese-based battery manufacturer Camel Energy recently announced it will establish a research and development headquarters in Pittsfield Township on Varsity Drive.

 

The company's parent corporation, Camel Group Battery Academy Co., employs about 6,000 people in China. Camel Energy received support from Ann Arbor SPARK and a nearly $300,000 incentive from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, choosing Ann Arbor over other U.S. sites in California and Texas.

 

The company will invest $4.6 million in the new R&D headquarters and expects to add 41 jobs here.

 

Phil Santer, senior vice president of business development for SPARK, says most of the jobs will be related to engineering or technical R&D, with a few managerial or sales positions as well. Zubo Zhang, president of Camel Energy, is expecting to move with his family to the Ann Arbor area and bring a handful of Chinese colleagues to the location as well.

 

Santer says foreign investments are an increasingly important part of Michigan's economy, but foreign businesspeople often are more familiar with America's east and west coasts than the heartland.

 

"With foreign company attraction, we're often overcoming the perception about these well-known areas like California or New York or Boston and need to raise awareness of the cool stuff going on in Michigan," Santer says. "For instance, 76 percent of all automotive R&D happens in Michigan. That's a nice fact that people respond to."

 

Santer says Camel Energy was interested in locating where automotive R&D talent is concentrated.

 

"Around the Ann Arbor region and throughout Michigan, there's this focus on electrification and energy storage, and they wanted a location where they could tap into the talent here," Santer says. Camel Energy focuses on traditional car batteries in its China market but wants the Pittsfield Township site to focus on development of higher-efficiency batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles, he says.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Washtenaw Community College-led consortium to develop workforce for American Center for Mobility

Washtenaw Community College (WCC) will form a consortium of community colleges to develop mobility industry training programs at the American Center for Mobility's (ACM) automated vehicle testing and development facility in Ypsilanti Township.

WCC is already partnering with Wayne County Community College District and is in talks with Macomb Community College as well, according to Brendan Prebo, associate vice president of marketing and communications for WCC.

Prebo says the partnership between WCC and ACM was a natural choice because the community college is located in the "center of the mobility universe."

"We have MCity (the University of Michigan's connected vehicle research and test facility) here a few miles away, University of Michigan engineering school in the area, and ACM in Ypsilanti Township just down the road," Prebo says.

Prebo says WCC began looking into training employees to work in the mobility industry several years ago. The school established its own Advanced Transportation Center to develop certificate and college credit programs for mobility careers.

"What we're doing with ACM at Willow Run is a natural extension of activities we've already undertaken in this area," Prebo says.

WCC will establish an office on ACM's campus, and Prebo says it will be initially staffed with two or three people by the end of June. The office will allow WCC staff to coordinate with ACM to develop mobility curricula, certificates, and degrees, as well as apprenticeship and internship programs.

Additionally, WCC will allow students interested in a bachelor's- or master's-level program to accrue credits at WCC at about a quarter of the cost of attending a state university, and then transfer those credits to a four-year program at a university.

The consortium is also talking about ways that connected vehicle engineering and other issues related to mobility could be introduced to curricula at the K-12 level. One way would be integrating mobility skills and knowledge into preexisting summer camp programs aimed at students ages 8 to 18, Prebo says.

Prebo says there's a lot of excitement about the announcement, but it will take time to build the consortium as well as develop classes and other programs.

"We're really just in the beginning stages of building some of those programs, but we look forward to having more to announce in the months ahead," Prebo says.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photo by Bill Milliken Jr.


Ann Arbor's GDI Infotech celebrates 25 years in business

After two economic downturns, a major shift in corporate focus, and the spinoff of a successful second company, GDI Infotech will celebrate 25 years of growth in Ann Arbor this year.

 

Founder Bhushan Kulkarni grew up in India and moved to the United States to study engineering. After an internship at Ford Motor Co., Kulkarni moved to Ann Arbor and started two other companies before launching GDI Infotech (originally Global Dynamics Inc.) as an engineering consulting firm in 1993.

 

The company was thriving and adding employees, but the internet started changing the way companies managed data and promoted collaborative workflow, so GDI Infotech's emphasis shifted to software and information technology.

 

"But we never really left our engineering core, and now things have come full circle, and we're working on things like mobility and autonomous vehicles," Kulkarni says. "In the future, I think a lot of growth for GDI will come from skills associated with both IT software and engineering and advances happening around us in intelligent mobility."

 

While focusing on creating workflow automation and collaborative platforms at GDI, Kulkarni saw an opportunity to spin off a separate company, InfoReady, in 2010. Kulkarni says InfoReady grew out of observing several GDI customers' struggles with information overload. They needed to find information, act on it, and track actions to get results.

 

Kulkarni created a matchmaking algorithm platform at GDI and started applying it to different problems for a variety of clients, first helping universities match with appropriate grants.

 

"It just so happened that we had the University of Michigan in our backyard looking for ways to fast-track their grant cycle, attracting more grant revenue, and getting through the process of deciding what grants to apply to rapidly," Kulkarni says. "I thought if this 800-pound gorilla in Michigan has this need, how is the whole sector doing?"

 

InfoReady's second project was InfoReady Thrive, a platform that helps match college students with internships, fellowships, study-abroad programs, and other extracurricular learning opportunities.

 

Kulkarni's current focus is on running InfoReady, and he has left day-to-day operations of GDI Infotech to his "two lieutenants," his wife and business partner Swatee Kulkarni and technology solutions expert Madhuri Deshpande.

 

Kulkarni says he has learned many lessons through the ups and downs his companies have experienced.

 

"First there was the dot-com bubble bursting – that was just crazy," he says. "I think we were better prepared for our latest economic downturn, but it still hit us to some extent. But other than those two major downturns, we've been steadily growing 15 to 20 percent every year on average."

 

Kulkarni attributes his companies' successes to the "ecosystem of people" around him, saying he likes to surround himself with smart people who know more than he does.

 

"Living in this community is a great opportunity to connect with many folks that are passionate about the community, from Ann Arbor SPARK to the Ann Arbor Chamber," he says. "I meet a lot of great people who become my role models, and I've learned quite a bit from them."

This piece is part of a series highlighting local business growth in the Ann Arbor area. It is supported by Ann Arbor SPARK.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy of Bhushan Kulkarni.

Quantum Signal seeks test subjects for USDOT-funded driver education simulator

Drivers fresh out of training understand the mechanics of navigating in an automobile but don’t have the real-world experience that helps seasoned motorists avoid hazards. That’s where a new driving simulator called LookOut, developed by Saline-based Quantum Signal, comes in.

 

The company has developed the PC-based, game-like simulator with grant funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). Quantum Signal is collaborating with the USDOT’s Volpe Center on the project.

 

Quantum Signal has been in business about 17 years, providing technology-based solutions to problems ranging from autonomous robot navigation to improving car safety. The company has previously built a tactical driving simulator for the Secret Service, so LookOut is a natural extension of Quantum Signal's work.

 

Quantum Signal CEO Mitchell Rohde says the simulator helps prepare new drivers for common hazards – such as people or animals who may suddenly appear from behind a row of parked cars.

 

"Folks familiar with driving would be careful, knowing that parked cars could obscure their view. People who aren’t experienced won’t recognize that and will drive by at full speed," Rohde says.

 

Quantum Signal has spent about three years developing LookOut, and it’s now in the testing phase. Rohde said Quantum Signal will learn from the data obtained from study subjects and use those findings to improve the tool.

 

"Once we get a sufficient number of subjects to go through the experiment in the lab, we can measure whether people improve their hazard perception while using the tool," Rohde said. "If it’s shown to be really effective in the lab we will want to see if it will improve folks’ performance in the real world, but there are safety issues with that. So the more we can do virtually, the better off we’ll be."

 

Quantum Signal is currently recruiting drivers 16 to 18 years old and 65 to 75 years old. Subjects get a gift card for participating in testing, and those who refer someone for the experiment also get gift certificates, Rohde said. Anyone interested in participating may call (734) 890-6550 or email drivingstudy2017@gmail.com.

This piece is part of a series highlighting local business growth in the Ann Arbor area. It is supported by Ann Arbor SPARK.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All images courtesy of Quantum Signal.


What drew San Francisco's SF Motors to Pittsfield Township?

San Francisco-based SF Motors, a subsidiary of Chinese auto manufacturer and supplier Sokon Industry Group, has announced plans to invest in a $10.7-million research and development facility in Pittsfield Township.
 
The facility is expected to create around 150 jobs. It will focus on product, powertrain, and new battery development in order to create the next generation of electric vehicles, according to Yong Yang, the company's VP for strategy, planning, and PR.
 
Yang cites the Ann Arbor area's reputation as a driver in automotive technology, and success with engineering and research and development centers, as key factors in the company's decision to move here. He is hopeful that proximity to the University of Michigan will give SF Motors access to the engineering talent the company will need to support its long-term goals of automotive innovation.
 
The company conducted a multi-state selection process that weighed such factors as business environment, incentives, location, talent pool, and resources. Yang says the "confluence of automotive and mobility experience and expertise" in Michigan ultimately proved the deciding factor in the company's plan to expand here.  
 
Additionally, the facility provided to the company by Pittsfield Township proved a perfect match for the company's growing needs.
 
"Advanced automotive technologies such as connected and automated vehicle research and implementation will be an important feature that our team will be working on," Yang says. "Our manufacturing team on site will be working on building a world-class manufacturing facility using best practices in the industry."
 
The SF Motors facility is only the most recent major development in next-generation automotive research in Washtenaw County. The 23-acre Mcity automated vehicle test facility has been in operation at the University of Michigan in operation since July of 2015, and another such site is set to open next year at the site of the former Willow Run bomber plant.

Jason Buchanan is a writer, father, and film fanatic living and working in Ann Arbor.
 

Spanish auto parts supplier to create nearly 200 jobs in Chelsea

Gestamp, an international supplier of metal parts and assemblies for auto manufacturers, will expand its North American operations into Chelsea, investing $68 million and creating 195 new jobs over the next four years.
 
The Madrid, Spain-based company specializes in products for developing lighter, safer, more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles. In Chelsea, Gestamp will build a chassis assembly line, an electronic coat paint line, and a remote laser-welding 3D technology line.
 
The location is Gestamp's fourth in Michigan and its first in Washtenaw County. The company currently has plants in Lapeer and Mason, and offices in Troy. Ann Arbor SPARK helped Gestamp choose Chelsea by providing demographics and economic statistics, as well as information on available incentive programs, says Jennifer Olmstead, senior manager of business development at SPARK.
 
Working with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, city of Chelsea, and Michigan Works, Olmstead says SPARK put together a proposal that convinced the company to locate in Chelsea.
 
"This project is a great example of the power of collaboration," she says.
 
Another determining factor was Gestamp's timeline, which called for operations to begin by early 2018. By purchasing an existing and vacant 190,000-square-foot production facility previously occupied by Jaytec on Sibley Road, Olmstead says the company can "hit the ground running."
 
Renovations on the property will start next year, with hiring to follow in 2018.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

A closer look at U-M's new driverless vehicle startup tenants

Peter Brink has thought a lot about cars that drive you places instead of the other way around.

"The day of the truly automated vehicle where you get in and say, 'take me to this location,' ... might be 10 years off, but it's probably not as far as off we think it is," says Brink, director of engineering at the driverless vehicle startup PolySync.

Starting next week, University of Michigan students will begin working with Brink and other developers and engineers in the driverless vehicle field on research that could help make that forecast a reality.

The joint incubator program by U-M's Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) and Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) is bringing three West Coast startups in to work with 11 engineering students for the fall semester. Portland, Ore.-based PolySync and San Francisco-based Zendrive and CivilMaps will move resources into the TechLab incubator at U-M's Mcity autonomous vehicle test facility. The initiative aims to help develop both students' careers and the startups' own new technologies.

Jay Ellis, director of the CFE's Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization program, and MTC deputy director Carrie Morton led the yearlong search for partner companies, narrowing over 30 candidates down to three. Candidates had to do work that either transfers drivership from humans to machines, or makes vehicles and infrastructure more connected. More importantly, they needed a program that put student development first.

"All three of these companies got that right away," Ellis says.

In the case of CivilMaps, students will help map and then localize the Mcity environment for a car's robot "driver" to read. The 3-D mapping company's focus is on making self-driving cars enjoyable and trustworthy for passengers, says Sravan Puttagunta, CEO & Co-Founder. Maps generated by sensor data and CivilMaps' technology are meant to replicate the human experience of navigating the physical world autonomously.

"Mcity is a great test bench for our technology stack," Puttagunta says. "A controlled environment lets us create very specific scenarios to stress-test our technology stack while having a captive audience that comes from the automotive industry."

Zendrive returns to Mcity this fall after a successful pilot run with the TechLab program back in February that led to summer internships for two students. The mobile technology company was founded by Google and Facebook veterans, and specializes in data and analytics for improving road safety.

Ellis says students will help identify and validate vehicle maneuvers using smartphone data and use that to quantify drivers' risk. They will also compare vehicle and phone data to confirm that they correlate – for instance, noting how a phone registers a hard right turn when a vehicle makes one on the road.

A driverless tech company for other driverless tech companies, PolySync's middleware platform collects and presents data from a variety of vehicle sensors. The software is meant to help developers easily obtain data useful for writing code for new autonomous vehicle applications.

Brink and the team at PolySync will work with students to produce an autonomous vehicle that can get to a predetermined destination. Part of the process will involve watching their calculations fail, which is harder to do in the real world.

"When you're driving out on the streets of Portland or Chicago or Ann Arbor, you don't want to drive the wrong direction on a one-way street, or constantly be crossing lane lines," Brink says. "Mcity provides us a captured enviroment where we can collect a lot of this 'driving badly' data, because that allows us to test the automatic drive algorithms."

Brink's initial interest in the program was to get involved with what students were doing while also exposing them to the work going on at PolySync. The research potential became apparent as something of a bonus.

"I realized after the fact what a great opportunity it was to do all this other stuff," he says. "I hesitate to use the term, but it really is synergy."

Photo by Doug Coombe.



 

First electric scooters roll off GenZe's Ann Arbor assembly line

Michigan is famous for putting the world on four wheels in the 20th Century. Now Ann Arbor is making its mark in the world of two wheel vehicles. The first electric scooters are rolling off Ann Arbor-based GenZe production lines this month. Although the first order is just a few scooters, the company expects to hit its production goal of 3,000 scooters by next year.

"We're going to ramp up pretty quickly," says Yesim Erez, head of marketing for GenZe.

GenZe makes an electric scooter and an electric bike. The GenZe 2.0 electric scooter aims to make urban commuting more convenient by combining smart design with new technology. For instance, the scooter can recharge by plugging into a normal outlet but is equipped with a touch pad control center in the handlebars and mobile app so users can monitor power levels and travel plans through GPS. It has enough cargo to carry small loads, like groceries, but is small enough to fit in an elevator.

Check out a video on it here.

"They have the built-in capacity for urban commuting," Erez says. "It can satisfy the urban commuters needs throughout the day."

GenZe plans to start retailing its electric scooters for $2,999. It's targeting markets in Portland, San Francisco and Michigan to start, but plans to expand in urban areas across North America over the next couple of years.

GenZe, formerly Mahindra GenZe, opened a tech center in Ann Arbor in 2014. It has since expanded that presence to include a manufacturing facility. It currently employs 36 people, including 10 new hires. The number of staff is expected to increase with sales over the next year.

"We have been hiring as we ramp up production," Erez says. "We plan to continue to build out our staff."

Source: Yesim Erez, head of marketing for GenZe
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

First scooters set to roll off Mahindra GenZe’s line this year

Ann Arbor's Mahindra GenZe is gearing up to produce its first scooters this year.

Mahindra GenZe is a division of an Indian-based scooter manufacturer, Mahindra and Mahindra. It opened a regional technical center in Ann Arbor to design scooters to sell in North America three years ago. Its manufacturing facility followed a little more than a year ago. The first scooters are set to roll off the assembly line later this summer.

"We are kicking out our last pre-production prototypes," says Terence Duncan, head of product management at Mahindra GenZe. "All of the engineering work is done."

The electric scooter is sleek and simple, focused on the needs of urban commuters looking for a convenient transportation option that works well in densely populated areas. The scooter comes with a 7-inch touchscreen monitor built into the handlebars and plugs into normal electric outlets to charge its lithium-ion battery. Check out a video on it here.

"Our monthly numbers will be very low at the start," Duncan says. "We will increase our output gradually. By the end of the year we hope to be at 3,000."

Mahindra GenZe currently employs a staff of 35 people in Ann Arbor. It has hired a dozen people over the last year in mostly white collar positions. It is also looking to hire another six people who specialize in assembly, electrical engineering, and project management.

That staff is not only working on the company's scooter but widening its product portfolio. The company is currently experimenting with electric bicycles that it is looking to produce in Ann Arbor, too.

"We are building prototypes for them," Duncan says.

Source: Terence Duncan, head of product management at Mahindra GenZe
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Intertwine Corp's software streamlines product design, development

Todd Norwood spent 20 years in the automotive industry, working at five companies across Metro Detroit. He noticed one consistently missed opportunity at all of the places he worked: information was plentiful and shared, but rarely absorbed.

"People largely moved Excel spreadsheets from one person to another and never collaborated with the data," Norwood says.

So he decided to do something about it launched his own company, Intertwine Corp. The Ann Arbor firm produces a cloud-based program called Q-It that acts as a business process optimization management software. It primarily serves the automotive industry but can work for any company that deals with product development and bill of materials management, enabling them to effectively leverage their data collection.

"It gives the customer the opportunity to dig into the granular level of data," Norwood says.

Intertwine Corp recently made the finals of the Global Automotive Innovation Challenge. It is looking to roll out the platform across the U.S. this year periodically updating it and enhancing it for its customers.

The 6-year-old company employs a staff of 11 employees and one intern. It has hired two people over the last year (a sales professional and a training-and-development coordinator) and it looking to add more interns this summer.

Source: Todd Norwood, president of Intertwine Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Sakti3 leverages $20M Series C, including $15M from Dyson

Sakti3 has closed on a eight-figure Series C round of seed capital to help develop and commercialize its lithium ion battery technology.

The Ann Arbor-based startup closed on a $20 million Series C earlier this month. That investment includes a $15 million investment from Dyson, the vacuum cleaner company. Sakti3 now has a broad range of investors including General Motors and Khosla Ventures.

"We think this is a huge development for Sakti3," says Ann Marie Sastry, CEO of Sakti3. "The Dyson partnership is critically important for our growth and first entry into the market."

Sakti3 spun out of the University of Michigan seven years ago looking to help lithium ion battery technology take a big step forward. Sakti3's technology claims to offer double the energy density of today’s commercial cells at half the price. It has been targeted for the automotive industry but Dyson sees potential in it for its handheld vacuum cleaners.

Sastry says her startup employs less than two dozen people and is hiring. She declined to say how many jobs it has open or how many people it has hired over the last year.

Source: Ann Marie Sastry, CEO of Sakti3
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.
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