Detroit’s Corktown Launches Pilot Project Using Autonomous Robots for Urban Farming

The Autonomous Robotic Pickup Platform – a pilot project being conducted in Detroit’s Corktown historic district – will partner autonomous sidewalk bots with a composting startup and an urban farm to test new uses for self-operating vehicle technology.

Orange Sparkle Ball (OSB) – a Detroit-based technology consulting firm –  will serve as the central manager and facilitator for the four-part pilot. OSB will partner with Scrap Soils, a composting startup which collects food waste from homes and businesses, and Brother Nature, a small urban farm. The bots, provided by Ottonomy and Intermode, can operate on sidewalks or bike lanes and will be remotely and physically monitored. Refraction AI, a maker of autonomous technology, is also involved in the pilot.

“We as a team have a lot of experience with autonomous delivery,” said Hannah Ranieri, an innovation strategist at OSB. “We’ve been doing autonomous delivery pilots with corporate partners for the past four years, and wanted [to] leverage a lot of that experience and that knowledge to start our own pickup platform, leveraging autonomous robots, and potentially drones in the future.”

The partners point out that the project is more than just collecting and composting food waste. Instead, it serves as an exercise in organization, logistics, public policy and community engagement, to explore the uses of new and novel technology in the urban environment.

The pilot is funded by a grant from the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform (MMFP), which is intended to spur mobility innovation. It was made possible by the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification. 

“We really see this as an opportunity for us to strengthen and grow the mobility ecosystem,” Justine Johnson, of MMFP and Michigan’s chief mobility officer, said. “And for us, when we talk about mobility, this term is very broad in nature. So we’re talking about from moving people, moving goods, moving information over land, water and air.”