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Urban Technology Prototype Grants

Call for Applications

2023 Urban Technology Prototype Grants

University of Michigan
Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning

Prototype Grant: Green Seeds

Seeking experimental software and hardware projects in support of decarbonization, climate resilient infrastructure, just energy transitions, and circular economies. We want to know how hardware and software can aid in planning, designing, building, operating, analyzing, and living within cities that are as digital as they are physical. How can carefully-applied technology help grow tendrils of this bright green future in present-day soil?

From energy-intensive NFTs to international e-waste pile-ups, there are too many reasons why the always-on-ever-faster world of contemporary technology is not the first thing to reach for when dreaming up a world of circular economies. And yet, the daily work of realizing a new economy and reimagined urban lifestyles will almost certainly involve new tools and processes—new technologies.

Areas of application may include: renewable energy, regeneration of natural environments and habitats, local manufacturing, urban agriculture, logistics and distribution, recycling and reuse, maintenance, coordination of local economies, new forms of sharing and coordination, reconceptualizing real estate, as well as the governance and decision making related to all of the above.

We mean “prototype” literally. The Prototype Grant is best for focused, concrete projects that are experimental and early stage.

Projects might include:

  • APIs to climate-relevant data
  • Novel mappings, visualizations, or models of urban information
  • Joyful tools for citizen science
  • Open source hardware
  • Tools for community engagement and/or expressions of community desire in relation to themes above

The strongest applicants will be those who build tools, techniques, processes or technological systems to see, shape, and inhabit cities in new ways. You have the skills to prototype your ideas, the focus to do something concrete in a short amount of time, and are excited to find a small scale experiment or prototype that will help you refine your big picture idea.

This is a virtual opportunity, so you can develop your project from just about anywhere while still enjoying access to U-M resources, including mentorship from Taubman College faculty members. 

Why Michigan?

The University of Michigan is a leading center of research on cities, sustainability, digital fabrication, and new materials—all of which have a role to play in circular economies and contribute to the emerging field of urban technology. The Prototype Grant is one of the ways that our new degree program in Urban Technology is experimenting to provoke discussion and debate as we grow. These grants aim to connect early-career professionals and recent graduates with our resources and expertise to support exciting, early-stage research and exploration.

Fast facts

Three applicants will be selected to receive project funding of $15,000 USD and access to University resources to develop their project during a 6-month sprint (July–December 2023). Interested parties will be working remotely and be paired with a member of the Taubman College faculty who will be their mentor. At the end of the six months, we will host an event at Taubman College to present the work and collectively reflect on its implications.

Application will open December 5.

Funding and resources

  • $15,000 project support funds 
  • Travel reimbursement budget for two visits to U-M during the award period
  • Each awardee will be hosted by a Taubman College faculty member who acts as their interlocutor and primary point of contact
  • Access to U-M library resources
  • Access to other U-M resources including 3D printers, robots, the FABLab, computing, the Ginsburg Center, the Detroit Center, and more
  • Access to the Taubman College building as a potential site for installations and prototypes
  • Connect with U-M’s and Taubman College’s cutting-edge research and community of scholars, including Urban Technology faculty and students
  • Inclusion of the project on a page on the Taubman College website

Eligibility

  • This grant is primarily intended for recent graduates and early-career professionals, from any professional background or experience.
  • Teams are welcome to work on Protogrant projects, but we can only accept an individual as the applicant. If selected, the grant will be paid to that individual.
  • Current U-M faculty, students, and staff are not eligible to apply.

Application requirements

  • Contact information
  • C.V. or other links to work
  • Indication of which Taubman College faculty members you are interested in having as a mentor
  • Answers to the following questions:
    • What do you propose to do with this grant? Why is this important to you? (500-750 words)
    • How will you accomplish this within the 6-month timeline? (500-750 words)

Timeline

  • Applications are due at 11:59 EST on January 30, 2023.
  • You will be notified mid-March 2023 of the jury’s decisions. 
  • Grant recipients will be invited to a kickoff event in Ann Arbor, tentatively scheduled for April 19, 2023.
  • For those selected, your grant period will begin July 1, 2023 and conclude December 8, 2023 with a Demo Day on campus. 
  • Your stipend will be split into three $5,000 installments, paid in July, October, and December 2023. Travel costs for two trips to Ann Arbor will be reimbursed (up to $2,400) when receipts 

Jury + Selection Criteria

  • Jury members to be announced in the coming weeks

The winning projects will be selected on a basis of novelty, importance, and viability. Does the proposal involve new and exciting ideas in urban technology? Is it important to the future health and sustainability of communities and/or the planet? Is the project as scoped and described in the application accomplishable by the proposer within the timeline available?

Q&A

Who are we looking for?
While the Prototype Grants are open to anyone, they are intended for individuals in the early stages of their career, including recent graduates and working professionals. It is open to any professional background and training, including artists, designers, planners, civil engineers, urbanists, design researchers, technologists, computer scientists, botanists, insurance examiners, engineers, geographers, and poets...

Do I need to have a technical background?
You need to be able to build whatever you propose. If there is something specific you need help making, we can help point you to resources on campus (including Taubman College’s Digital Fabrication Lab, or FABLab), but the expectation is that you will be able to execute on your proposed idea without much outside assistance. 

Can a team apply for a grant?
We are looking for individual applicants. If part of a group or team, only one person may apply, and if selected, only one person will receive the award amount and travel stipend.

Do I have to move to Ann Arbor?
Nope.

Would I have space to work?
We anticipate that your primary workspace will be elsewhere. However, when visiting campus you will have access to Taubman College coworking facilities as well as the U-M Library network and Duderstadt Center. You may also use the project funds for a workspace if that is important to you.

Do I need to have a project proposal to apply?
Yes. We want to understand what you are planning to complete during the grant period, and how that project relates to the themes of this competition. 

Does my proposal need to be a brand-new project?
No. If you already have a project underway, the grant can be used to accelerate your work—just be sure to specify what is already complete, which organizations are already supporting your efforts (if any), and what you will be doing during the grant period.

What is the criteria by which grant proposals will be evaluated?
We are looking for innovative ideas that explore the future of cities, which are well-defined and can realistically be completed within a 6-month period. We are also looking for projects that applicants can complete on their own, without depending on the skills of others. 

Do I need to identify the Taubman College faculty sponsor before I apply?
You should review the list of faculty mentors and their interests on the application form, and then rank your preferences when you apply. We will work to match interested pairs together. 

If I am selected, when will I receive the funds?
You will receive the stipend in three installments of $5,000, paid in July, October, and December 2023. Travel reimbursements for two trips to Ann Arbor (up to $2,400 total) will be made after receipts are submitted.

What if I have more questions?
Email us at urbantechnology@umich.edu.

 

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