Until recently, much of the focus on mobility and driverless vehicles has been about easing traffic congestion, improving safety on roadways and helping workers secure the first and last miles of their daily commutes.
But companies like Pratt & Miller, a new member of the PlanetM Landing Zone in Detroit and recipient of the $8 Million Michigan Mobility Challenge, are expanding that focus to include addressing the mobility needs of seniors, persons with disabilities and veterans.
Pratt & Miller, a New Hudson-based engineering and automotive company well known for its motorsports operations, is working with partners in Michigan and elsewhere to develop autonomous electric shuttles that are ADA compliant, vehicle modifications that have been largely overlooked by others in the mobility and AV sector.
The goal is to improve transportation services for veterans at the Battle Creek Veterans Administration Medical Center. The company received a $2.1 million grant from the Michigan Mobility Challenge in January. PlanetM, an initiative of Michigan Economic Development Corp., is a main partner in the Mobility Challenge.
“If you look at mobility, we are really under serving folks with disabilities and veterans,” says Christopher Andrews, director of mobility and innovation at Pratt & Miller. “I think we can do a lot of good in these areas. How can we take new technologies and help make transportation seamless for the elderly, veterans and anyone who has disabilities. There are solutions.”
Pratt & Miller plans to begin testing its driverless vehicles in Battle Creek in September, helping shuttle veterans between 16 campus locations. The Battle Creek complex serves 42,000 veterans from 22 counties in southwestern Michigan. The shuttles are designed to seat four people, or three with a wheelchair occupant. Pratt & Miller is working to improve the overall experience for veterans (and ultimately those who have disabilities) and to make boarding as seamless as possible, including modifying ramps to ease accessibility.
“The partnerships that Pratt & Miller has forged in this process are helping expand mobility in Michigan,” says Jean Ruestman, administrator of Passenger Transportation at the Michigan Department of Transportation. “We see that as a bonus. They were interested in this project and reached out to partners and are bringing more people with expertise into our state. They’re so enthusiastic about working to solve mobility problems. They are really looking at how we can make people’s lives better. It’s not just about building a vehicle.”
Pratt & Miller is among the 14 corporate and 40 startups from eight states and eight countries sharing co-working space in the PlanetM Landing Zone, a collaboration between the DRC’s MICHauto and Michigan Economic Growth Corp. The space is a hub for mobility companies to do business and connect with automotive and mobility ecosystems in Michigan.
“Pratt and Miller represents another strong member and another strong addition,” said Devon O’Reilly, director of Entrepreneurship & PlanetM Landing Zone for the Detroit Regional Chamber. “We look for companies that can add value to the space and value to the ecosystems and value to our members. We think Pratt and Miller and what they can do, really add to that value. They’re very open and interested in connecting with mobility startups we have here and their technologies and their needs.”