The US State of Michigan has announced plans to create a commercial drone skyway in three proposed areas, including an international connection between Michigan and Ontario, southeast Michigan, and any other suitable location in the state. The aerial mobility corridor would create “a variety of opportunities, both in the future and the present” according to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The effort is a partnership between MDOT, Michigan’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, and Ontario government agencies. It will explore whether small drones can be flown beyond the line of sight of a pilot, which is currently prohibited. Officials say that information gathered from the feasibility study will be used to further decision-making in preparing for the future of advanced air mobility in North America.
A newly formed partnership with Airspace Link, a Detroit-based drone technology start-up, and their partners at Thales USA, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, Aviation Innovations LLC, CityFi, and Grand Sky Development Co. LLC will develop a feasibility analysis as a first step to establish infrastructure required to support a range of commercial and public advanced air mobility use cases.
Another key partner in two of the three proposed areas will be the Michigan Central mobility innovation district in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit. Their collaboration with key stakeholders from the state and city will help advance this research and innovation to a broader idea of autonomy that goes beyond vehicles on the road, but also the water or sky. In addition, their community-based outreach sets a precedent for how other partners exploring and testing in the Michigan Central impact area educates and conducts feedback from the residents.
In addition, the Airspace Link team will provide an analysis of existing airspace, air traffic infrastructure, and ground infrastructure required to ensure operational safety of commercial drone skyway. The analysis also will include the potential economic impacts, applicable state and local zoning restrictions, environmental factors (like social equity and noise considerations), travel impacts, and connections to existing aviation, surface transportation, and transit modes.
Through the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Michigan Aeronautics Commission (MAC), the State of Michigan, with support from the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME), the Michigan Economic Development Corp., and the Government of Ontario, through the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN), will explore whether small drones can be flown beyond the line of sight of a pilot and be used in operations like just-in-time delivery, medical transport, or other small-scale deployment of UAS. The information gathered from this feasibility study will be used to further decision-making in preparing for the future of advanced air mobility. Another critical piece of information that will determine if and how to proceed is the teams’ education and engagement with the communities surrounding the areas where the feasibility study is done.
“Cross-border partnership is critical across all dimensions of mobility, including aerial systems. Michigan and Ontario have a rich history of partnering on groundbreaking innovations and this project by Air Space Link continues that tradition,” said Gov. Whitmer. “Considering the density of auto suppliers, logistic companies, technology start-ups, and consumers in the region, it is a natural fit to test this cutting-edge aerial technology here. The vital research could lead to faster product deliveries and reduced supply chain disruptions in the future, helping us grow Michigan’s economy and put Michiganders first.”
“Michigan’s Central’s aim really is to serve as an open platform for collaboration – drawing the best minds from around the world to co-create and test mobility solutions on real-world streets, in real-world situations,” said Carolina Pluszczynski, Michigan Central development director. “That includes, in this case, bringing in the best from here in the States and also across the way to Ontario to push the boundaries of how we look at autonomy as part of this aerial mobility corridor.”
“This unmanned aerial system joint venture with Ontario builds on the extensive work underway to make Michigan a global leader in the development and deployment of mobility technologies that will benefit society, protect the environment, and strengthen our economy,” said State Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba. “We look forward to demonstrating beyond visual line of sight commercial UAS operations are not only safe, efficient and feasible, but also that the technology can be employed to better connect the intermodal transportation system that many in Michigan rely upon.”
“New and emerging transportation technologies offer enormous potential to improve the way we move people and goods,” said Ontario Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney. “Ontario is a leader in connected and automated vehicle technologies, and working together with Michigan, we are taking important steps to explore how drones can be used to safely ship goods.”
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