A sun-washed Friday afternoon in downtown Ann Arbor offered an opportunity for interested members of the public to pick the brains of tech professionals taking part in Tech Trek, an event that peels back the doors of Ann Arbor-based tech businesses and accelerators to welcome the curious.
Participants could travel between 25 downtown locations and visit 80 companies, many of which offered prizes and refreshments, plus product demonstrations and discussions. Timed to coincide with the final day of the school year for Ann Arbor public schools, one objective of Tech Trek was to introduce middle and high school students to the many educational and career opportunities available in Ann Arbor through an interactive platform of engagement.
The day began with Tech Talk, a TED Talk-like event held at the Michigan Theater. Thirteen tech professionals
from companies such as Duo Security
, Give and Take, Mi Padrino
, Ad Adapted, Ford Labs, Barracuda
, and Workit Health
offered six-minute presentations, the most interesting of which focused on how technology can change lives.
Kenneth Natoli, director of delivery technology at Domino’s Pizza talked about how Domino’s and Ford are partnering to test product delivery using autonomous vehicles, piloting tech innovation to get pizza from the pizzeria’s oven to the customer’s door, and innovating “AnyWare,” pizza ordering and delivery tracking on any device, including smart watches. With 50 percent of its employees working in IT, Domino’s is the third top e-commerce site behind Amazon and Apple.
After Tech Talk wrapped up, participants could see how autonomous pizza delivery works, talk to delivery technology professionals about the many ways they innovate to get Domino’s menu items directly to customers, and even sample pizza, all on Mobility Row, a block-long cluster of more than 20 transportation- and mobility-related businesses.
Self-driving microshuttles May Mobility and Navya were joined by less visible, behind-the-scenes mobility solutions like Fleetilla
, which offers vehicle tracking, driver logging, mapping, and data analysis for the trucking and delivery industry.
, a startup that sprouted from University of Michigan and Northwestern University students, showed off its power source prototype that converts a cyclist’s wheel motion into clean energy to connect and protect riders and their bikes.
Pedal Cell shows off its cycle powered prototype at Tech Trek
Vehicle control interface company PolySync
demonstrated its R&D data capture platform and remote controlling device for testing at Mcity and other autonomous vehicle testing locations.
shared its all-in-one mobility app that allows end users to access third party lockers, car rentals, parking, bike shares, and other transportation solutions.
Talent Terrace, a newer area of Tech Trek featured MichiganWorks!, Washtenaw Community College, and TrueJob
to spread the message that students can prepare for and launch into a tech-based career here in southeast Michigan.
“We encourage students to apply within the state and stay here,” says Komal Doshi, director of mobility programs at Ann Arbor SPARK. The various components of A2Tech360 are designed to help prospective tech workers think broadly about what working in tech actually means.
“Automotive is seen as manufacturing, but by seeing Mobility Row and startups working with OEMs, they can learn that the automotive industry as a whole is changing. We can all create a new Impression of what a tech job can be like. It crosses all sectors, and runs across all products and services.”
Navya shuttles transport people in driverless vehicles
Tech Trek was the final program of A2Tech360
, a weeklong celebration of technology designed to create connections between businesses, investors, researchers, higher education, nonprofits, the public, and students.
By creating a multi-event mobility-focused week, Ann Arbor SPARK, sponsor of A2Tech360, has launched a SXSW-style experience designed to showcase southeast Michigan as a hub of technology innovation to rival other acknowledged tech hotspots. National think tank Meeting of the Minds held its mobility summit earlier in the week, which followed a day of investment-related discussions.