Orange Sparkle Ball Launches Autonomous Robot Pickup Pilots in Detroit

Atlanta-based Orange Sparkle Ball, an innovation and impact accelerator focused on moving public and private organizations’ initiatives forward, is testing an Autonomous Robotic Pickup Platform (ARPP) system in Detroit this year.
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Orange Sparkle truck
Detroit is being used as a test city for an Autonomous Robotic Pickup Platform this year. // Photo courtesy of Orange Sparkle Ball

Atlanta-based Orange Sparkle Ball, an innovation and impact accelerator focused on moving public and private organizations’ initiatives forward, is testing an Autonomous Robotic Pickup Platform (ARPP) system in Detroit this year.

The project is being supported with funding from the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform (MMFP) provided by the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME). OFME launched the MMFP to provide support to mobility and electrification companies looking to deploy their technology systems in Michigan.

The platform is designed to pick up residential and commercial food waste for composting. This first test involves Ottonomy, an autonomous robot startup system, picking up food waste in partnership with Detroit composting startup Scrap Soils and Brother Nature, an urban farm in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.

“This pilot program is the latest example of how the state’s commitment to mobility expands beyond the movement of people to find real world solutions to challenges impacting our communities,” says Justine Johnson, chief mobility officer for the state of Michigan. “The sustainable benefits of investments in mobility solutions continue to manifest in new, groundbreaking ways and Michigan is proud to be at the forefront of autonomous robotic pickup with the support of Orange Sparkle Ball.”

Orange Sparkle Ball plans to conduct each phase of the project in the Transportation Innovation Zone (TIZ) established by the city of Detroit’s Office of Mobility Innovation (OMI) in Corktown. The project will use the expedited permitting process established by OMI and has already received a permit for the first pilot.

“We’re excited to take our years of experience testing autonomous robotic solutions and focus on picking up end-of-life materials,” says Ashley Touchton, partner, and innovation strategy consultant at Orange Sparkle Ball.

Detroit is a good place to deploy the civic infrastructure tests as the city is focused both on future technology opportunities and the needs of communities, says Touchton.

“The use of this technology for pickup has been under investigated, and we’re happy to be exploring expanded use of autonomous robot technology,” says Meaghan Kennedy, founder of Orange Sparkle Ball. “Additionally, as a Michigander, I’m particularly proud to be conducting these pilots in Detroit.

“The unique expedited permitting process implemented by the city of Detroit in a first-of-its-kind TIZ and the mobility funding platform from the state of Michigan built to support startups is allowing us to explore new mobility use cases in Michigan, partnering with several Michigan-based technology companies and community partners.”

After completing the initial food waste pickup pilot, Orange Sparkle Ball will continue pickup tests in Detroit through the end of 2024.

Following completion of the composting pilot, subsequent tests will involve several autonomous technology partners, including Michigan-founded Refraction AI and Detroit-based Intermode, all with the goal of understanding how autonomous technology might fill gaps in city infrastructure while providing for community good.