Playboy Article: Detroit is “Silicon Valley of Smart Mobility Tech”

We’ve all heard the cliche about reading Playboy only for its articles, but it turns out that the magazine really does have some stellar reporting. On Monday, Playboy posted an article that brings some validation to southeast Michigan’s role in the development of autonomous vehicles.

Titled “Detroit is Becoming the Silicon Valley of Smart Mobility Tech,” the article details Detroit’s efforts to pivot from brawn to brains. Earlier in the decade, many people in the tech world assumed Detroit was too slow and antiquated to significantly participate in building the autonomous future, so it was presumed the emerging mobility industry would be led by Silicon Valley. However, in light of solving big safety, manufacturing, and distribution challenges, that thinking has seemingly changed, at least among some observers.

“Building on decades of experience putting the world on wheels, Michigan has been busily establishing its own reputation as a place for high-tech innovation, from engineering the next level of electric batteries to the development of driverless ride-sharing vehicles,” reporter Marcus Amick writes. “It’s a shift that’s quickly transforming the Detroit-anchored manufacturing hub, long known for its growling muscle cars and massive luxury SUVs, into a burgeoning tech spot that’s poised to drive the future of mobility.”

Playboy credits Michigan’s “expansive partnerships” between automotive entities, government, and academia, adding up to “a research and development ecosystem unlike any other in the world.”

The article goes on to detail the reporter’s experiences going behind the scenes at places like the Toyota Research Institute and the University of Michigan’s Mcity driverless test bed, both located in Ann Arbor. Readers also learn that the city of Detroit now has its own chief of mobility innovation, signaling the industry’s importance to the Motor City’s economic development.

In the article, Planet M‘s Trevor Pawl takes pains to say Detroit isn’t trying to compete with Silicon Valley on the development of driverless tech so much as collaborate with it.

“Both regions need one another,” Pawl says. “California can leverage Michigan’s production expertise, and Michigan can benefit from Silicon Valley’s software prowess and startup ecosystem.”

Ted Serbinski, who leads the Detroit-based Techstars Mobility startup accelerator program, tells Playboy he’s brought approximately 30 transportation tech companies to the region, the overwhelming majority of which are headquartered outside of Michigan. “It’s almost all external, companies that actually wanted to come to Detroit,” Serbinski says. “Startups know that if you want to be in automotive, you have to come here.”

In the Midwest, we’re generally known for our take-no-prisoners work ethic and a reluctance to toot our own horns. That has sometimes made it hard to get the word out to the wider world that exciting transportation innovations are being pioneered here, just as they were a century ago. More articles like this one ought to help change the world’s perception of Detroit as a place where only bad things happen.

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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