Feb 1, 2019

Axios Navigate

Joann Muller

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Today Expert Voices contributor John Paul Helveston looks at China's changing AV landscape and Sam Anthony and Julian De Freitas poke holes in the infamous "trolley problem."

1 big thing: Tomorrow's cars need a new kind of workforce

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We're on the cusp of the most dramatic shift in transportation in a century, but red flags from a series of experts warn that America's workforce is not prepared to meet the needs of the digital mobility era.

Why it matters: The advent of self-driving and electric cars will require a workforce with new, advanced skills to create, manage and maintain them.

  • But there's likely to be a serious shortage of people with those skills — so experts say governments, corporations and educational institutions need to work together to create modern training programs to fill the gaps.

The big picture: Truck drivers and taxi drivers are often singled out as the most likely to be displaced by autonomous vehicles. But the Brookings Institution estimates that digital mobility, includings AVs, will change the jobs of more than 9.5 million workers — or more than 1 out of every 20 U.S. workers.

New jobs will be created, too. Self-driving and electric cars will help create more than 100,000 U.S. jobs in the next 10 years, says Boston Consulting Group.

  • As many as 30,000 broadly trained computer engineers will be needed to develop these cars of the future, according to BCG — but that's 6 times the expected number of graduates.
  • Instead of specialists like today's chassis or powertrain engineers, these new engineers will need to be cross-functional “tinkerers,” with expertise in math, physics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, data sciences and software, per BCG.
  • Another 70,000 skilled trade workers will be needed to support AVs — everything from electric vehicle mechanics and AV safety drivers to remote-support staff and fleet operators.

The changing workforce demands are already forcing automakers and their suppliers to make big strategic bets.

  • GM purchased Cruise Automation, Ford invested in Argo AI and Aptiv bought nuTonomy — moves all made at least in part to boost internal talent pools.
  • While preparing to close 5 North American factories and eliminate 15,000 jobs, GM is shifting thousands of engineers to work on AVs and EVs, doubling its resources on new mobility efforts.
  • But these actions don't begin to address the current and future skills gap, experts argue.

The public sector, including educational institutions, also needs to step up, by modernizing curricula and enabling new certifications, says Adie Tomer, a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.

"We need government to be just as nimble as the private sector, in order to keep pace from a workforce perspective. Otherwise, we'll get to a stage where it will be clear that there’s a gulf between what’s technically possible and what we are able to execute at scale."
— Adie Tomer

What we're watching: An initiative by the Detroit Mobility Lab could be a model for these efforts.

  • It created the non-profit Michigan Mobility Institute to train professionals and tradespeople in AI, robotics, cybersecurity, and other fields.
  • Working with leading Michigan universities, it aims to offer the first "Master of Mobility" degree starting in 2021.
2. China's relaxed rules may open new auto era

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tesla recently began building its first gigafactory in China, potentially kicking off new opportunities for foreign automakers there amid a loosening of government rules on investment, John Paul Helveston writes for Axios.

The big picture: China reversed a rule requiring foreign automakers to create joint ventures with Chinese firms in order to build vehicles there. The change, which applies to EVs immediately and all vehicles by 2020, could increase incentives for EV and AV companies to do business in China but doesn't remove all risks.

Background: The joint venture rule was intended to encourage a technology transfer that would benefit Chinese automakers, but research suggests that it backfired.

  • Foreign automakers have brought older technologies to China and kept advanced vehicle technology development at home, leaving their Chinese partners (often state-owned enterprises) struggling to absorb new technology.
  • Coinciding with the rule change, China recently reduced its import tariffs amid the trade war and rolled out new fuel economy standards and an EV sales mandate, further incentivizing global automakers.

What we’re watching: China’s EV market — the largest in the world — is currently almost entirely comprised of domestic Chinese brands.

  • But following the rule relaxation, foreign firms, including AV start ups, may now be inclined to develop advanced vehicle technologies in China, which already has one of the world’s largest AV research and development communities, including tech giants like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent.

Yes, but: As with any advanced technology, there is concern that developing AV-related software in China could create a national security threat.

Helveston is an assistant professor in engineering management and systems engineering at George Washington University.

Go deeper: Read the full post.

3. "Trolley problem" doesn't apply to AVs

People hanging off a streetcar. Photo: Lisa Larsen/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The "trolley problem" sets up a quandary: whether to let a runaway trolley stay the course and hit numerous people, or redirect it and hit just one person. Recently, researchers have designed similar thought experiments around AVs, Sam Anthony and Julian De Freitas write for Axios.

Why it matters: AVs are being taught to drive safely and avoid harm entirely, just as human drivers are. But media coverage of these experiments, which assume unrealistic expectations for AV technology and suggest that AVs really could face such choices, may be contributing to public distrust in AVs.

What’s happening: In a recent MIT study, thousands of participants were asked whether an AV should kill a driver or a pedestrian, a homeless man or an executive, and so on.

  • Participants' choices were assembled into a preference scale, ranking who is most preferable to spare or kill.
  • This study and earlier research have been widely publicized as capturing essential ethical insights that should be built into AVs.

Between the lines:

  • There is no evidence that human drivers encounter instant decisions between two fatal outcomes with no alternative options. Programming AVs to anticipate such scenarios would not improve safety.
  • "Driverless dilemmas" mischaracterize AV capabilities. It's unlikely an AV could detect personal details, let alone a person's profession. Instead, AVs are being taught to track everything around them, and swerve or slow down to avoid hitting anyone.
  • Publicity of this research could be contributing to public distrust of AVs. It suggests that AVs will be unrealistically influenced by the ethics of their developers.

Yes, but: While AVs are not likely to face forced-choice ethical dilemmas, they may be taught to prioritize detecting and avoiding vulnerable road users, like pedestrians, over stationary objects, like parked cars.

Anthony is co-founder and CTO of Perceptive Automata. De Freitas is a doctoral candidate in psychology at Harvard University.

Go deeper: Read the full post.

4. Driving the conversation

Spied: Apple Engineer Stole Material on Autonomous Vehicles, FBI Alleges (Micah Maidenberg — The Wall Street Journal)

  • My thought bubble: We'll see how the case plays out, but it occurs to me that Apple's pursuit of the allegations is a clear sign that it is not giving up on AVs, as many speculated last week after it cut 200 jobs from its secretive Project Titan program.

Wrong: No, Elon, the Navigate on Autopilot feature is not ‘full self-driving’ (Andrew J. Hawkins — The Drive)

  • Why it matters: Because there are no self-driving cars. Period. And Tesla’s CEO only adds to the confusion by overstating the capabilities of Tesla’s technology.

Frozen: Why electric cars struggle in the cold — and how to help them (Jack Stewart — Wired)

  • This is a smart look at how weather affects EV batteries, along with some useful advice, like don't drain the battery below 20%.
"Batteries are like humans. They prefer the same sort of temperature range that people do. Anything below 40 or above 115 degrees Fahrenheit and they’re not going to deliver their peak performance."
— Anna Stefanopoulou, director of University of Michigan’s Energy Institute, to Wired
5. What I'm driving

The redesigned Toyota Camry XSE. Photo: Toyota

This week's ride is the 2019 Toyota Camry XSE, as reliable, comfortable and fuel-efficient as you'd expect from America's best-selling sedan.

Why it matters: Sedans may be out of favor with most Americans, but Toyota still sold 343,000 Camrys last year, on the heels of a sweeping redesign for the 2018 model year.

  • As with all new Toyotas, the Camry's styling is more aggressive, and while not pleasing to every eye, it certainly signals a new, more emotive era for the once-staid Japanese brand.

Safety is standard. Toyota deserves credit for making driver-assistance features standard across its lineup. Most other manufacturers bundle the technology into expensive trim packages so you're also forced to buy extra features you don't necessarily want.

Camry keeps it simple. Its Toyota Safety Sense technology with pedestrian detection includes...

  • Forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking
  • Lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist
  • Adaptive cruise control

The bottom line: At $34,600, plus $1,590 in optional equipment, the Camry XSE that I drove is about as sensible as you can get.

Joann Muller