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Michigan and Ontario to study possibility of more drone connections

'Cross-border partnership is critical across all dimensions of mobility, including aerial systems,' said Michigan governor

The governments of Michigan and Ontario are collaborating on establishing commercial drone aerial connections at various locations along the border.

"Cross-border partnership is critical across all dimensions of mobility, including aerial systems. Michigan and Ontario have a rich history of partnering on groundbreaking innovations and this project by Air Space Link continues that tradition," said Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

The full text of the release from the governor’s office follows:

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced today that Michigan and Ontario are collaborating on a first-of-its kind technology initiative involving unmanned aerial systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones. This effort involves studying the feasibility of a commercial drone skyway in three proposed areas, including an international connection between Michigan and Ontario, southeast Michigan, and any other suitable location in the state.  

Through the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Michigan Aeronautics Commission (MAC), the State of Michigan, with support from the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME), the Michigan Economic Development Corp., and the Government of Ontario, through the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN), will explore whether small drones can be flown beyond the line of sight of a pilot and be used in operations like just-in-time delivery, medical transport, or other small-scale deployment of UAS. The information gathered from this feasibility study will be used to further decision-making in preparing for the future of advanced air mobility in North America. Another critical piece of information that will determine if and how to proceed is the teams' education and engagement with the communities surrounding the areas where the feasibility study is done.

 "Cross-border partnership is critical across all dimensions of mobility, including aerial systems. Michigan and Ontario have a rich history of partnering on groundbreaking innovations and this project by Air Space Link continues that tradition," said Gov. Whitmer. "Considering the density of auto suppliers, logistic companies, technology start-ups, and consumers in the region, it is a natural fit to test this cutting-edge aerial technology here. The vital research could lead to faster product deliveries and reduced supply chain disruptions in the future, helping us grow Michigan's economy and put Michiganders first." 

 "Ontario has a strong and strategically important economic connection with the State of Michigan," said Ontario Premier Doug Ford. "We welcome this opportunity to further deepen that relationship and foster new jobs and economic opportunities in developing industries now and well into the future."

 A newly formed partnership with Airspace Link, a Detroit-based drone technology start-up, and their partners at Thales USA, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, Aviation Innovations LLC, CityFi, and Grand Sky Development Co. LLC will develop a feasibility analysis as a first step to establish infrastructure required to support a range of commercial and public advanced air mobility use cases.

 Another key partner in two of the three proposed areas will be the Michigan Central mobility innovation district in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit. Their collaboration with key stakeholders from the state and city will help advance this research and innovation to a broader idea of autonomy that goes beyond vehicles on the road, but also the water or sky. In addition, their community-based outreach sets a precedent for how other partners exploring and testing in the Michigan Central impact area educates and conducts feedback from the residents.

"Michigan Central's aim really is to serve as an open platform for collaboration - drawing the best minds from around the world to co-create and test mobility solutions on real-world streets, in real-world situations," said Carolina Pluszczynski, Michigan Central development director. "That includes, in this case, bringing in the best from here in the States and also across the way to Ontario to push the boundaries of how we look at autonomy as part of this aerial mobility corridor. But no matter what we're exploring, the ideas or solutions need to have one ultimate purpose: to improve access and equity for all, and that is why community engagement from the offset will always remain key to us."  

In addition, the Airspace Link team will provide an analysis of existing airspace, air traffic infrastructure, and ground infrastructure required to ensure operational safety of commercial drone skyway. The analysis also will include the potential economic impacts, applicable state and local zoning restrictions, environmental factors (like social equity and noise considerations), travel impacts, and connections to existing aviation, surface transportation, and transit modes. 

“This unmanned aerial system joint venture with Ontario builds on the extensive work underway to make Michigan a global leader in the development and deployment of mobility technologies that will benefit society, protect the environment, and strengthen our economy," said State Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba. "We look forward to demonstrating beyond visual line of sight commercial UAS operations are not only safe, efficient and feasible, but also that the technology can be employed to better connect the intermodal transportation system that many in Michigan rely upon."

 "New and emerging transportation technologies offer enormous potential to improve the way we move people and goods," said Ontario Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney. "Ontario is a leader in connected and automated vehicle technologies, and working together with Michigan, we are taking important steps to explore how drones can be used to safely ship goods."

 "We know the future of mobility is more than just vehicles - it is on air, land and sea," said Chief Mobility Officer Trevor Pawl, OFME. "Michigan is uniquely positioned to study, test and deploy the technologies that will lead to more affordable, accessible transportation solutions and are proud to continue to build on our strong relationship with Ontario to take a collaborative, innovative approach to these efforts."

"This is a great collaboration between economic partners across the Ontario-Michigan border," said Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Vic Fedeli. "Ontario is an important trading partner to more than half of U.S. states, Michigan among them. This effort, through our exciting new OVIN program, will help strengthen economic growth and job creation in Windsor, and across Ontario's modern automotive supply chain, the largest in Canada."

Today's announcement builds on Gov. Whitmer's announcement in August that Michigan and Ontario were extending their longstanding collaboration on transportation and cross-border activities, with MDOT and OVIN signing a Memorandum of Understanding to explore the implementation of a cross-border, multimodal testbed for advanced automotive and mobility solutions.

Quick facts

  • Ontario has more than 300 companies and organizations pioneering connected and autonomous vehicle technologies. This ecosystem is strengthened by OVIN, led by the Ontario Centre of Innovation. It connects the province's world-leading automotive and mobility sectors, including electrified vehicles, high-quality post-secondary institutions, first-class talent, and regional infrastructure to support entrepreneurship and create jobs. 
  • Ontario's 2021 budget announced an investment of C$56.4 million in OVIN over the next four years to build on the successful elements of the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN), which supported the province's connected and autonomous vehicle industry between 2017 and 2021. Launched in December 2021, OVIN is helping foster the next generation of electric vehicles in addition to connected and autonomous vehicle and mobility technologies in Ontario. 
  • For 2020, two-way goods trade between Michigan and Ontario was valued at $44.8 billion (C$60.1 billion). The state and province are each other's top export customer. This trade relationship supports thousands of jobs on both sides of the border. 
  • More than 25 percent of the more than $700 billion in annual trade between the U.S. and Canada crosses between Windsor and Detroit, the most active border crossing in North America.


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