Max Muncey becomes animated when he talks about what’s happening in the tech sector of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) - AutoMobili-D.
Running through a summary of the two-year-old exhibition’s brief history as a futuristic ancillary to the long-running auto show, the NAIAS spokesman sprinkles his narrative with “blown away,” “amazing,” and “over the top excited.”
And why not? If some addled baby boomer, disappointed that “The Jetsons” remain a 1960s cartoon instead of 21st century reality, came running up to ask, “Hey dude, where’s my flying car?” - all Muncey has to say is, “Follow me, the AirSpaceX exhibit is right over here.”
Technically, AirSpaceX’s aircraft is not a flying car but an autonomous air taxi that can take off vertically (a generation or two beyond Jetsons-world). And the flying car only begins to touch on what’s in store for visitors to AutoMobili-D, where mobility entrepreneurs display a vast array of technologies and applications, ranging from conceptual to already deployed in drones, all manner of vehicles and transportation infrastructure, that will make moving from one place to another safer, more efficient and convenient.
As Muncey says, the AutoMobili-D exhibit, 150,000 square feet of space on the lower level at NAIAS “pulls back the curtain on an industry that is going through a massive transformation.” That transformation is what generated the concept of AutoMobili-D, a joint undertaking by NAIAS, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), Detroit-based accelerator Techstars Mobility and the Detroit Regional Chamber’s MICHauto initiative.
Although the public displays – open to general auto show attendees for the first time beginning Saturday, Jan. 20 – create much of the buzz, the organizers and exhibitors are also focusing intently on longer term prospects for the automotive and mobility industries, especially in Southeast Michigan.
MEDC’s PlanetM, for instance, set up several hundred matchmaking meetings in the show’s first week between the principals of the dozens of startups attending AutoMobili-D and potential customers, including OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers in attendance. Muncey calls it a kind of “eHarmony matchmaking” for the automotive industry.
Trevor Pawl, group vice president of PlanetM, Pure Michigan Business Connect and international trade at the MEDC said, “It’s a remarkable opportunity for companies made up of two to three people to talk to corporate-level executives.”
Justin Robinson, vice president of business attraction for the Detroit Regional Chamber, explained the goal of AutoMobili-D is to “get the technology into the automotive economy and remove barriers.”
That’s the same goal Sheen Xiao, director of operations for Ainstein.ai, a maker of radar sensors for self-driving vehicles and AutoMobili-D exhibitor, had in mind when she came to Detroit. Ainstein.ai, a 35-employee, three-year-old firm based in Lawrence, Kan., which initially targeted the burgeoning drone industry, “can’t go to shows all over,” Xiao says, “but the Detroit auto show is where a lot of the decision makers are.”
Ted Serbinski, managing director of Techstars Mobility and a Silicon Valley transplant, says that’s exactly why AutoMobili-D has become an almost overnight success.
“The established companies – the increasingly tech-centric OEMs and their partners – need these startups to solve problems,” he says.
Amplifying Muncey, Serbinski predicts that in the future, the AutoMobili-D portion of the auto show may become the main attraction.
“In 10 years, all the tech stuff will be upstairs and all the cars will be in the basement,” he said.