France and America: Driving the autonomous future together

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If the highways of tomorrow are going to be humming with autonomous and connected vehicles, a host of French startups and technology companies are looking to work with American automakers and researchers to drive that future.

For the fourth year this June, a handful of French companies with emerging and innovative technologies will make their way across the Atlantic to Detroit and Silicon Valley to advance their developments to improve safety, reliability, as well as the operative functions of the future autonomous and connected vehicles.

During Ubimobility, as the annual event has been named, eight French companies (selected by a panel of American industry experts) will pitch their innovations to prospective American car manufacturers and others. The 15-day mission begins in Detroit June 3 and moves to the Silicon Valley June 9 for a final week.

“Our goal is to connect these French companies to the North American market,” said Molly Swart, a senior trade advisor -- automotive -- with Business France, a national agency supporting international business development. “Autonomous and connected vehicles are the new form of mobility. What it’s going to be and what iteration it takes remains to be seen. We want to put French technology in the hands of American automakers and suppliers and startups so they can use these blocks of technology and augment their offerings in that niche field.”

The French delegation includes companies working to enhance the connectivity of machines, protection of digital identities (for connected devices), shuttle services, sensors for autonomous driving and keyless access to vehicles. In addition to Business France, BpiFrance, the international investment bank of France, is a sponsor of the accelerator program. RSM Is among the sponsors of Ubimobility 2018.

Among the American companies the French delegation will visit in June are the Ford Motor Co., Magna, Fiat Chrysler Automotive and Wards Auto.

“This is a conduit for the French companies to the North American automotive market,” Swart said, noting there are benefits for companies on both sides of the Atlantic. “Some American companies don’t have to go out and look for these kinds of companies. Not every automaker has a venture capital arm to do that. They have to rely on some other means of identifying these companies.”

The Detroit Regional Chamber's Destination Detroit is partnering with Business France, the French American Chamber of Commerce to host a Ubimobility Tech Showcase during the delegation so local companies can see what the French startups are creating. The event is open to any companies interested in mobility.

“The idea is to create an exchange of information between our ecosystems and the leading mobility regions and countries around the next-generation mobility,” said Justin Robinson, the chamber’s vice president of business attraction. “We’re always out looking for the global leaders in mobility and we are leveraging this type of format to create an exchange. It’s an opportunity for us to learn from them and create a networking event.”

The goal, he said, is to create a long-term, collaborative relationship, as the chamber has done with a previous delegation visit from the Netherlands.

“We’re doing this with the idea of raising the awareness of the needs of the global marketplace and create a platform for our companies to directly engage with those partners and leading to a longer-term collaboration,” he said.

In just a few short years, Ubimobility has gained traction with American companies and the French can boast significant successes, including the opening of a new production facility for autonomous electric buses in Saline, outside Ann Arbor. NAVYA, a French startup, opened the facility as a result of Ubimobility. The company has been testing autonomous buses at Mcity, the University of Michigan autonomous vehicle testing and research center, and is expected to begin running autonomous shuttles buses on the North Campus this spring.

While the heart of the American automotive industry would seem a logical locale to showcase French technology, Swart noted that other U.S. locations were considered.

“We looked at several states,” Swart said, noting Chicago and California were among the possibilities. “Every finger pointed back to the collaboration and cohesiveness of the state of Michigan, the Ann Arbor region, Detroit and the testing center. We feel pretty justified when we made the final decision to come here.”

In all, 14 French companies have established a North American presence through partnership or subsidiaries and have raised more than $130 million in venture capital funding. Among them is Dibotics, a LiDAR processing pioneer, which is collaborating with the automotive glass manufacturer AGC automotive to integrate LiDAR sensors behind the windshield.

The Ubimobility Tech Showcase will be held 5 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 6, at NextEnergy Center in Detroit. For more information on Ubimobility, the participating startups, and to register for the Ubimobility Tech Showcase visit www.detroitchamber.com/ubimobility.
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