Detroit Auto Show Puts Big Focus on Mobility Technologies, Startups

The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) kicked off this week in Detroit, allowing industry affiliates and media to get an early look before the show opens to the public this weekend. For the second year in a row, NAIAS highlighted the mobility sector’s potential business models and offered glimpses of how the trillion-dollar market for self-driving cars might take shape.

The AutoMobili-D exposition, created in partnership with Techstars Mobility and the Michigan Economic Development Corp., was also back for a second year. Set up in the Cobo Center’s lower level, AutoMobili-D featured nearly 60 startups from around the world that are developing technology related to driverless vehicles. Auto manufacturers and suppliers also had a sizable presence at the exhibit.

AutoMobili-D included autonomous planes, fleet vehicles, and concept cars; portable electric bikes and scooters designed to provide first mile-last mile transportation solutions; companies offering mobility or simulation as a service; a wide variety of sensors and navigation and visioning tools; mobility-related commerce platforms; artificial intelligence and robotics companies; and university tech programs from all over North America, with noticeable increase in Canadian entities. In the back of the giant conference room, there was even a skateboard ramp.

There also seemed to be a little heavier political presence than in years past. Governor Rick Snyder and the American Center for Mobility’s John Maddox were on stage, flanked by about a dozen state officials, touting Michigan’s mobility-related talent, resources, and testing regulations, which are among the loosest in the country. A Congressional delegation led by Debbie Dingell, who represents Southeast Michigan, also made the rounds to discuss their work on federal self-driving legislation.

The debate over whether autonomous vehicles will come to fruition seems to be over. Now, companies and municipalities that want to lead their development are looking for ways to get ahead of the pack. In the coming days, we’ll feature a few of the companies that stood out from their competitors this year.

As part of AutoMobili-D, Techstars and the state’s PlanetM initiative honored companies with especially solid technology and compelling business plans. See below for a list and descriptions of the winners.

Techstars Mobility Startup Competition winners

Carmera (based in New York City and Seattle): Carmera says its mission is to automate cities by maintaining a “professionally crowdsourced vehicle sensor network” that gathers real-time 3D scene, change detection, and analytics data for fleet customers as well as professionals working in “built environment” (real estate, construction, architecture) jobs.

Seeva Technologies (Seattle): Co-founded by Jere and Diane Lansinger, father and daughter, Seeva got its start a few years ago after a conversation over beers. Diane, who has a background in software development, told Jere the washer fluid heating system he invented might also work well on the array of sensors and cameras allowing autonomous vehicles to see. They launched the company in 2016 around Jere’s IP portfolio and have been growing since.

Wheeli (New York City): Co-founded by three New Yorkers—Jean-Pierre Adechi, Alex Ayache, and Steve Delor—who met at a pick-up soccer game, Wheeli is a carpooling app for college students. The company came about as a result of Adechi’s inability to easily find rides back to the city from his rural Connecticut university, and its app was inspired by a European website that matched drivers and riders going to the same destinations.

PlanetM Award winners

—Autonomous Driving category: Carmera was also recognized by the state’s mobility initiative for its system’s ability to “deliver granularity, accuracy, and freshness at scale.”

—Connected Car category: Voxx Automotive (Orlando, FL) has developed a rear-seat entertainment system called Evo that it says brings the smart home television environment to cars. Evo can connect to gaming consoles, smartphones, and streaming sticks, allowing users to send content wirelessly to the display from their devices via mobile app.

—eMobility category: Urb-E (Pasadena, CA) makes foldable, two-wheel electric vehicles designed by a former automotive engineer to help commuters get from their front door to the transit station, from work to the train, or take other short trips. Urb-E riders can charge their vehicles, which look like a cross between a scooter and a tiny bike, just like one would charge a phone. According to user reviews posted on the company’s website, they can also be a lot of fun to ride.

—Mobility Services category: Parkofon (Alexandria, VA) makes an “all-in-one device” similar to the E-Z Pass to make parking easier. On the company’s website, Parkofon predicts that within 10 years, its in-vehicle navigation and networks will replace parking meters, gates, and tollbooths.

—Smart Cities category: Immotor (Irvine, CA) builds intelligent, portable personal transportation devices that look a little like Razor scooters when unfolded. Immotor vehicles come with modular batteries and a programmable operating system, and like the Urb-E scooter, are intended for first mile or last mile use. After taking a test drive at the auto show, I can confirm that Immotor’s vehicles are easy to operate and a blast to ride.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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