Letter from the Editor: Maker Space

The world’s first open platform for accelerating innovation will soon be up and running in a former railroad post office next to Michigan Central Station, located just west of Detroit’s Corktown district.
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R.J. King Illustration
R.J. King

The world’s first open platform for accelerating innovation will soon be up and running in a former railroad post office next to Michigan Central Station, located just west of Detroit’s Corktown district.

There, Ford Motor Co. is investing more than $740 million to create a center of opportunity that, overall, will span 30 acres in and around Michigan Central Station.

The campus for 5,000 workers — half of whom will be from the automaker; the rest are a mixture of suppliers, partners, and innovators — revolves around four buildings: the Station, set to open in early 2023; the Book Depository (formerly the post office), scheduled to open next spring; the Factory, which is now home to the automaker’s autonomous vehicle business unit; and a future development to the west of the train depot.

The most surprising aspect of the enclave is that apart from the automaker’s mobility activities, the vast majority of the project is designed to serve as a magnet to attract the most promising ideas to advance discovery from companies and individuals around the globe. In other words, as the automaker explicitly cites, Michigan Central Station is not a Ford campus.

Rather, the redevelopment of one of Detroit’s most desolate eyesores will likely become the greatest single treasure the city and its residents has ever received. The reason: Ford is inviting anyone — innovators, startups, entrepreneurs, and residents — who has a promising solution to develop, test, and launch their future products or services in an open environment. The offerings will include a business incubation center where people can tap into a network of experts and services to bring their ideas into the material world. 

The main goal is to speed and improve transportation solutions using the latest technologies like 5G, cellular arrays, sensors, GPS satellites, Wi-Fi systems, and underground hi-speed fiber cables. Already, testing digital connections between ground vehicles is underway around Michigan Central, but the work isn’t confined to advancing communication systems between public and private users.

If someone has an idea for improving emergency vehicle services, such as allowing doctors to view accident results through high-definition cameras worn by medical personnel, the concept can be developed into a working solution at the Michigan Central campus. There, innovators can tap into any number of resources so patients will have a greater chance of survival — especially when the nearest hospital has all the information they need to assemble the right team and equipment when an ambulance arrives.

The same accident scenario applies to air transportation, where so-called MedVac vehicles can airlift patients or deliver medical supplies to and from remote locations. Aerial vehicles powered by electric batteries also can be used to move cargo and passengers.

Other ideas for improving our quality of life can be developed at Michigan Central so that established companies can connect with startups, educators can be linked with policymakers, mentees can learn from mentors, and communities can share real world challenges with innovators.

Bill Ford, executive chair of Ford Motor Co., who had the vision to develop the innovation campus, sees the effort as a pivotal project to create a connected, autonomous, and technological ecosystem to benefit the world.

It’s also a way for Ford to give back to the community — which is fitting, given the company’s founder, Henry Ford, would have been hard pressed to create his Quadricycle in 1896 without the contribution of key components from his mentor, Detroit industrialist Charles Brady King.

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