Recent advancements in robotic technology have demonstrated the endless potential for ways in which robots can change how the world works. Progress in robotic capabilities, performance, autonomy, and cost-effectiveness will continue to impact the manufacturing industry and efforts to explore how robotics could change the Sterling Heights traditional manufacturing industry will be the key to economic development in the future.
In 2016, the City enlisted the help of Bonner Advisory Group and HWA Analytics (the Team) to conduct research into the feasibility of developing a robotics collaborative in Sterling Heights. With auto and defense manufacturing employing much of the City’s workforce in the past, and cutbacks to defense spending, the purpose of the study was to explore other avenues of industry and economy through a robotics collaborative.
This thinking led the Team to explore the possibility of combining traditional manufacturing with electronics, software, and coding to allow Southeast Michigan to compete with global centers of innovation in the robotics field. After surveying the current climate in the area, the Team recommended that the City develops and builds a regional robotics innovation center, like the FIRST Robotics teams active at many Michigan high schools. The center would be open to STEM degree students and others with the desire to combine manufacturing and information technology, make a product, or start a company, with the goal of enticing young people to get excited about the manufacturing sector.
Once the Team had identified there was potential for a collaborative of this nature to succeed, they focused their efforts on the business model, organizational structure, and a funding strategy. The collaborative would be based on sustainable programming with sources such as membership dues from both public and private members. Public memberships would be for municipalities, higher education, and K-12 FIRST Robotics teams. Private members would include both corporations and individuals attempting to further their research in the robotics field. Other sources of sustainable funding would be generated from corporate partners, grants, sponsored research, licensing, and
The team also proposed a funding strategy to get the collaborative off the ground. This included soliciting funds from both public funding sources and private companies, and seed funding through government and corporate partners such as the Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, the Department of Education, the New Economy Initiative, and the Ralph Wilson Foundation.
Evaluation of the Southeast Michigan economy found it to be favorable to the robotics collaborative initiative, according to Automation Alley’s Tech Report. In 2016, technology leaders’ project revenue in the region grew 99 percent, with 83 percent expecting an increase in their company’s R&D spending and 82 percent planning to hire more talent in 2016. With Michigan outpacing Silicon Valley in STEM degree completions as of 2015, it also appears there will be substantial talent available to fill roles created by participants of a robotics collaborative.
With the ever-changing economy and job market, Sterling Heights has a considerable opportunity available discovered by the extensive study into a potential robotics collaborative. In comparison to Silicon Valley, Southeast Michigan has the advantage for this market with its lower cost of living, greater networking opportunities, and leading academic institutions in the region.