Michigan becoming a hub for artificial intelligence inventions

Michigan has the largest number of artificial intelligence and machine learning patents issued in the Midwest since 2010 with the Detroit area ranking among the top nine regions for innovation across the country, according to a new report.

The Detroit-Warren-Dearborn metropolitan area had 896 AI patents issued, making it the ninth-most innovative U.S. metro, according to CommercialCafe, a commercial real estate Internet listing service.

While Silicon Valley in California far surpasses any other metro area for AI patents, metro Detroit held its own on the list largely because of the presence of the automotive industry and related suppliers, in addition to the growing startup network in Detroit, the report said.

“Because the U.S. is home to several global leaders in both automotive and key automation technologies, markets like the Detroit metro area are intriguing to both investors and innovators worldwide,” the October report said. “With nearly 900 AI and ML patents at the close of 2022, the Detroit MSA ranked as the ninth-most innovative metro in the U.S. — and continues to show that the Motor City inventive spirit remains strong.”

The companies topping the list of AI/ML patents were Ford Global Technologies with 321 patents, GM Global Technology Operations with 296 and Magna Electronics with 53 patents issued.

Specifically, CommercialCafe cited the partnership between Google and Ford Motor Co. to convert the 105-year-old Michigan Central train station and surrounding neighborhood into the Michigan Central Innovation District as a hub for mobility and entrepreneurship. As part of the mobility-focused, smart city project, Google agreed to provide cloud technology, as well as work force development training to high school students and job seekers in the Detroit area, the report said.

In addition to Ford, General Motors and Stellantis have established mobility and software engineering projects in Michigan in recent years, bringing Silicon Valley closer to home, it said.

Ford could not be reached for comment. A GM spokesperson said the company was unable to comment on patent filings or their intended use “due to the competitive nature of the space.”

A growing startup center

Alan Taub, director of the University of Michigan’s Michigan Materials Research Institute, said an increased interest in startups is also leading to a more competitive mobility market, which is why Michigan is seeing more AI patents.

“The technology revolutions of connected vehicles, self-driving vehicles and electric vehicles are moving at an unprecedented rate for the industry,” Taub said. “And with the introduction of new startups, all of a sudden intellectual property moved from sort of the bare minimum to a major part of the strategy of companies. … I think if you just do a historical look at the number of patents around mobility, it has skyrocketed, because they’re much more valuable, and it’s a much more hyper-competitive space.”

HostingAdvice.com, a web-hosting information site, recently ranked Detroit as one of the top 13 cities drawing startups away from Silicon Valley. Detroit ranked No. 6 on the list, citing the city’s economic resiliency after the 2008 financial crisis and the city’s business-friendly tax environment.

In the 2022 Global Startup Ecosystem Report by Startup Genome, an innovation policy advisory and research firm based in San Francisco, Detroit was ranked the No. 1 city in the U.S. for emerging startup ecosystems.

Henry Liu, an engineering professor and director of Mcity, UM’s mobility testing facility, said AI is becoming an essential part of autonomous vehicles.

“AI is going to transform every aspect of mobility, not only just the vehicle, but the infrastructure, the manufacturing of the vehicles, and in service to people,” Liu said.

A typical use of AI in mobility is in self-driving vehicles. Liu used the example of a Tesla, which has eight cameras and 12 sensors that feed information about the traffic, pedestrians and other vehicles to the control system. In the past, the development of this technology would be analyzed on a case-by-case basis and take an undetermined amount of time.

“What artificial intelligence is enabling is going beyond that, what engineers would call more stochastic — basically, it’s allowed us to move away from a human analyzing every situation to all that data that Henry referred to as being collected,” Taub said. “Now an artificial intelligence algorithm, with human oversight, is finally able to take on this grand challenge of full situational awareness, the thing the human brain does.”

The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., area had the most patents issued between 2010 and 2022, leading the list with 9,798 patents, followed by the New York-Newark-New Jersey metropolitan area with 6,275 patents.

In the Midwest, the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Ill., area trailed Detroit-Warren-Dearborn at No. 11 with 770 patents.

CommercialCafe analyzed data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office between 2010 and December 2022 to write its report.

Taub said the impact of AI will reach a variety of industries in the name of improving mobility, which Taub defines as “the most efficient way, in energy, time and personal experience to have the physical movement of people and goods.”

“We’re heading to a world where your calendar will be synced to the cloud, traffic conditions and charging stations and that whole sequence of getting people to the right place at the right time,” Taub said. “A very complex operations research challenge, which artificial intelligence will enable.”

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