Drones will fly in Corktown as part of new pilot program

The project will see drones put into use on tasks like delivering goods to residents and inspecting infrastructure.

An aerial view of Michigan Central Station.

An aerial view of Michigan Central Station.

Michigan Central Station and the Michigan Department of Transportation are creating a so-called “Advanced Aerial Innovation Region” in Detroit. That’s a space where a network of small drones will be developed and put into use on daily tasks, like small goods deliveries and infrastructure inspection.

Anchored at the former train depot, a three-mile space in Corktown is being earmarked for the infrastructure. It’s launching as a pilot program, which is slated to last for two years.

Listen: A drone network is being established in Corktown

“The goal in the end is to be able to reach an environment where we can fly beyond visual line of sight.” — Matt Whitaker, Michigan Central

One challenge of building the network will be ensuring drones can operate safely in a sky full of other drones and flying objects. Matt Whitaker, director of the Mobility Innovation Platform at Michigan Central, said proving that can be done will be a priority.

“All drones are often being operated by someone who’s in visual line of sight,” said Whitaker. “And the goal in the end is to be able to reach an environment where we can fly beyond visual line of sight.”

Project officials cite research estimating the drone market in the U.S. could become a $50 billion industry within the next decade.

Whitaker says a successful pilot program could help set Michigan up to take advantage of that growing sector. To help residents tap into that economy, plans to launch skill training programs are in the works.

“Those trainings don’t require college degrees,” he said, “but do require individuals spend time understanding the rules of flight.”

Roles in maintenance and operations could also lead to additional jobs for Detroiters, Whitaker added.

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  • Alex McLenon
    Alex McLenon is a Reporter with 101.9 WDET. McLenon is a graduate of Wayne State University, where he studied Media Arts & Production and Broadcast Journalism.