Apr 26, 2023 - News

Book Depository opening highlights next gen mobility innovation

A RoboTire bay demonstrates the company's tire-changing technology

A RoboTire bay demonstrates the company's tire-changing technology inside the Book Depository building. Photo: Joe Guillen/Axios

Detroit staked its claim as a center of mobility innovation yesterday with the opening of a hulking new tech incubator in Corktown.

Why it matters: The historic Book Depository's resurrection from a fire-damaged, vacant shell to a cutting-edge innovation hub represents the city's post-bankruptcy ambitions to become a global leader in mobility and electric vehicle adoption.

Driving the news: Five years after Ford Motor acquired the near-derelict building originally designed by Albert Kahn from the Moroun family, it reopened with dozens of companies already at work.

  • The 270,000-square-foot former post office branch is now the local headquarters for Newlab, which provides a WeWork-esque office environment for inventors, artists and problem solvers.
  • The redesign features high ceilings and large windows throughout, with an extended skylight maximizing natural light into an atrium near the entrance.

What's next: The Book Depository is the first completed building at the 30-acre mobility campus anchored by the Michigan Central Station train depot.

  • Tours for the public are expected to start soon.
The renovated Book Depository building at its reopening in April 2023.
The renovated Book Depository building yesterday during its reopening event. Photo: Joe Guillen/Axios

What they're saying: "The best and the brightest are coming here to invent things to help us with the future that we need," Ford executive chair Bill Ford told a standing-room-only audience gathered for the launch event.

Between the lines: The incubator strives to produce tech-solving, real-world problems — especially transportation-based solutions for cities and neighborhoods.

📸 Here's a snapshot of the companies now working inside the Book Depository:

Airspace Link

Elevator pitch: "Google Maps for drones," CEO Michael Healander tells Axios.

  • The 50-plus-employee company is developing a traffic management system for unmanned aircraft.

Real-world application: Airspace is working with Beaumont Health to use drones to carry blood samples above a rail line from Birmingham to Royal Oak.

RoboTire

Elevator pitch: "Automating vehicle maintenance with robots and vision, starting with the tire-changing process," CEO Victor Darolfi says.

  • RoboTire, headquartered in Plymouth, is moving to Newlab next week to take advantage of the startup ecosystem and connect with other companies.

Real-world application: Its technology can change a set of four tires in about 20 minutes, Darolfi says.

Attendees at the Book Depository's launch event gather for opening remarks from Bill Ford and others.
Attendees at the Book Depository's launch event gather for opening remarks from Bill Ford and others. Photo: Joe Guillen/Axios
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