The inaugural year of a new weekend-long tech event in Ann Arbor included a high-profile summit focused on Michigan's mobility leadership and solving community problems through mobility.
Ann Arbor SPARK recently expanded its June Tech Trek and Tech Talk programs to include a Meeting of the Minds Mobility Summit. SPARK partnered with the national organization Meeting of the Minds to create an all-day mobility conference June 14. It was preceded by a day of discussions around investing in the mobility sector on the 13th and followed by Tech Trek, Tech Talk, and a public mobility exhibition called Mobility Row on the 15th.
Komal Doshi, director of mobility programs at SPARK, says the ultimate goal in coming years is to expand what was formerly one day of programming around tech in Ann Arbor to an entire week of programs and networking under the umbrella of A2Tech360.
Meeting of the Minds is a national think tank that sponsors conferences nationwide regarding different aspects of smart cities. The national organization has only done one other conference centered on mobility before, Doshi says. She says Meeting of the Minds chose Ann Arbor for its second mobility summit because Ann Arbor has "such a strong ecosystem, such a strong drive around the mobility industry."
Doshi says much of the summit was focused on positioning Michigan as a leader in the mobility industry.
"We discussed the governor's mobility challenge and the chance for us to strengthen the regional ecosystem," Doshi says. "We also talked about how the focus really needs to be on how we meet users' needs. All around southeast Michigan, disadvantaged people are traveling large distances to make it to work and often have job loss for that reason because they don't have a way to get around, to the economic detriment of our society."
She says mobility is a "deciding factor" in issues ranging from healthcare access to job opportunities and higher education.
"We need to focus on how to use our innovations and grant money ... to (close) these gaps that exist," she says. "The conversations really showcased these gaps and what they mean for the prosperity of the region."
The day started with panels and keynote speeches from both local and national organizations, followed by small-group discussions about gaps and challenges in the mobility industry. In the afternoon, participants took a field trip to tour the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township. Global auto supplier Visteon provided two live demos on ACM's test tracks, one of vehicle-to-vehicle technology and the other on vehicle-to-infrastructure technology.
Additionally, eight other companies did demos in the ACM garages, showing off products ranging from technology that collects data on pavement conditions to controls for lighting infrastructure to cybersecurity for autonomous vehicles.
After the field trip, participants were divided into small roundtable discussions of seven or eight people to dive deeper into solving problems in the field. The conference was followed by a networking reception and SPARK's annual FastTrack awards for high-growth local companies.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Jenn Cornell.