Michigan Central, MDOT launch Advanced Aerial Innovation Region in Detroit

Michigan Central and MDOT announced the launch of Detroit’s Advanced Aerial Innovation Region. Photo courtesy of Michigan Central/Nadir Ali.

DETROIT—Michigan Central and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced today the launch of Detroit’s Advanced Aerial Innovation Region—an initiative that will position the state as a leader in next-generation aerial mobility and drone technology by attracting startups, catalyzing new high-skill jobs, advancing policy and driving commercialization and the adoption of drone technology.

As the first cross-sector, advanced aerial urban initiative in the United States, the innovation region aims to future-proof Michigan’s status as a mobility solutions epicenter and stake a claim to jobs and economic opportunities in an industry predicted to top $50 billion by 2030.

Covering a 3-mile radius around Michigan Central, the two-year project will provide open, shared infrastructure and services that enable commercial drone development while ensuring safety in the air and on the ground. Participating drone operators will have access to concept and operational support. The initiative will propel solutions focused on addressing accessibility, safety, tech equity and regulatory challenges by testing potential commercial drone uses, ranging from delivery of medical supplies, consumer goods and manufacturing materials to infrastructure inspection. Initial usage pilots will launch early next year.

Michigan Central, a center for advancing technologies and programs, will provide resources for foundational infrastructure, community engagement and skills training. MDOT will manage the network and define operating parameters, as well as data and safety protocols. Flight data from all pilots will feed the initiative’s overarching goal to drive drone operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). Gaining FAA BVLOS approval would reduce existing barriers to commercial development and allow operators to fly drones without maintaining visual sightlines, opening the door for longer-range delivery and a variety of new potential uses in Southeast Michigan. Strategic partners Newlab and Airspace Link will support activation and development in the Advanced Aerial Innovation Region.

Newlab will collaborate with Michigan Central and MDOT to mobilize startups and industry partners through pilot projects aimed at de-risking and accelerating the commercial scale of high-value drone use cases.

Airspace Link will provide the platform and processes to support safe operations in a real-world urban environment. Its platform creates digital mapping using more than 60 data sources to help drone operators understand ground and airspace risks at any given time while simplifying UAS flight authorization requests to the FAA. Airspace Link will also boost visibility for the public so that Detroit residents can understand which flights, plans and programs will happen in the area.

The initiative will offer open access to shared resources and services, allowing pilot programs to test and evaluate drone capabilities for various uses. This will provide valuable insights for optimizing conditions, validating and expanding commercial applications, meeting demand, and economic feasibility. The results have the potential to mobilize the entire advanced aerial mobility ecosystem of operators, startups and industry stakeholders by breaking down existing barriers to commercial development.

“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 CEO. “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.”