By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Detroit — While this city continues to face a fight over its bankruptcy filed in July — making it the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history — Gary Shapiro, president/CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), said innovation and convergence of technologies could pave the way for recovery not only the city but the entire country.
“I have a special affinity for Detroit,” Shapiro told the attendees of the 2014 International CES Press Preview Detroit, a media lunch that was attended by number of Michigan-based companies exhibiting at the 2014 CES. “The Detroit area is just ahead of the rest of the country in the economic recovery.”
He said, “This area has a great future, and technology is part of it. Not just with the auto industry, but with other businesses based in this area. There is a tremendous technology opportunity here. It is time that Detroit had its own technology group.”
The event included attendees from a number of local firms — big and small — ranging from Ford Motor Company to TechSlinger, Valeo and the Smart Diet Scale. Given that Detroit has a had a long history tied to the automobile industry, the lunch was dominated by the discussion of what the future means for the convergence of consumer electronics and automobile technology.
“It is exciting to see start-ups in Michigan,” said Jim Buczkowski, global electrical and electronics systems engineering director for Ford Motor Company. “Start-ups that embrace that entrepreneurial spirit that we’ve seen in Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv and it are now coming here.”
One of the big messages coming out of the industry lunch was that companies may not be able to go it alone, regardless of their size. Working together may be required.
“Collaboration is the key to this future, no one is doing this by themselves, and in this ecosystem we have to work together or else,” said Timothy J. Yerdon, director of global innovation, design and R&D, at Visteon, an American global automotive parts company spun off from the Ford Motor Company in 2000.
“We have to collaborate to reach that ever-changing goal in consumer electronics, and in the short term cycle in automobile electronics,” Yerdon added.
While auto parts suppliers may have once been mechanical parts, today it is very much digital technology as well, and what may be developed for use in the car could have wider reaching applications.
“We believe this technology that we’ve developed will continue to move from auto technology to other consumer technology,” suggested Kate Cleveland, marketing communications director at Opto Semiconductors, a company that has been part of CES for three years. “This isn’t just part of the automobile.”
Detroit is home to more than just the automobile, and the city has been working to attract other innovators and bring back that spirit of entrepreneurship. This was noted by Nick Batsikouras, inventor and owner of the Smart Diet Scale, who will be making a return to CES.
“I’m an example of one of the small start-ups in Detroit,” said Batsikouras. “I went to last year’s CES with a very crude prototype and the show allowed me to make a number of contacts, and we’re excited to be part of the show for a second year.”
As an exhibitor in the Eureka Park, which showcased the smaller companies and the innovative spirit, Batsikouras said he was hardly able to take a break.
“If I made one mistake,” he added, “it was going to the show alone. I was there for 10 hours a day just talking to people.”
“Everyone has a great story,” said Shapiro at the end of the lunch. “This reinforces the great optimism that I have for the Detroit area.”
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