UM Startup, May Mobility, Plans to Double Staff in 2018


May Mobility, a startup launched at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, which last year tested its driverless shuttles on public streets in downtown Detroit, today announced it will double its workforce to 30 employees in 2018. Job openings include engineers, customer development professionals, and operations managers.

In addition, May Mobility has already received $11.6 million in funding from private donors, as well as from local and Silicon Valley venture capital funds.

Bryce Pilz, director of licensing at U-M Tech Transfer, says that in Michigan it takes the average startup more than four years to raise its first $500,000 in financing.

“Outside of the life sciences, this is far and away the most successful startup we’ve had at the University of Michigan in raising that first round of funding so quickly,” says Pilz.

May Mobility’s founder and CEO, Edwin Olson, a U-M associate professor in computer science and engineering, has been working with co-founders U-M alumni Alisyn Malek, COO; and Steve Vozar, chief technology officer; on autonomous vehicle projects with Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., and Toyota.

“Getting our cars on public roads within our first months of operation couldn’t have happened without this relationship with U-M,” says Olson. “Our leadership in the autonomous vehicle space is driven by unique technology that gives us an advantage over our competition. It’s a good demonstration of how academia and industry can work together.”

Recently May Mobility licensed five autonomous driving-related technologies from U-M to help build out a fleet of autonomous public transit vehicles planned for business districts, corporate and college campuses, medical facilities, and other communities.

“The autonomous vehicle field marries two sectors — the auto sector that started here and the tech space that is perceived as being on the West Coast,” Pilz says. “Both hotbeds are competing to be the center of autonomous vehicle development. May Mobility — using cutting-edge tech and tapping into the heritage of the auto industry —can create a lot of good jobs and attract people to Michigan.”

Olson, who formerly was lead investigator on Ford’s autonomous driving program and the co-director of autonomous driving at Toyota Research Institute, says May Mobility isn’t trying to go after the entire transportation market like other big companies in the space.

“That’s a great market, but we believe it could take five to 10 years for the technology to catch up,” Olson says. “We think that by starting with right-sized transportation in controlled environments, we can build a successful company, have vehicles on roads in the real world first, and turn on the spigot of data and operational knowledge that will help us improve our systems faster than the car companies still in research and development mode.”

Olson is also director of the APRIL robotics lab: Autonomy, Perception, Robotics, Interfaces and Learning. May Mobility’s licensed intellectual property was developed in the APRIL lab. The licensed technology, in part, allows May Mobility to “extract higher-quality data out of the standard sensors everyone is using,” Vozar says. “We are grateful to have this IP so we can get to market faster.”

Last year, the company completed a pilot with Bedrock Inc. in Detroit by running two shuttles for a week in the central business district. May Mobility is in discussions with Bedrock to determine the next steps for the program.

“We want to be a critical part of future transportation systems,” Olson says. “Our vehicles can be safe, increase access, and be convenient.”

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