Axios What's Next
March 13, 2023
You may not have used your AM radio in years — but as Joann reports today, they're a critical safety tool in emergencies, even as some automakers are dropping them from their latest EVs.
- 📣 Axios is hosting our second-annual What’s Next Summit on March 29. See here for more info.
Today's newsletter is 985 words ... 4 minutes.
1 big thing: Electric cars tune out AM radio
Some electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers are eliminating AM radios from their cars, which government officials fear could put people at risk in an emergency, Joann Muller reports.
Why it matters: AM radio is one of the critical ways that federal, state and local officials communicate with the public during natural disasters and other emergencies.
- If drivers don't have access, they might miss important safety alerts.
What's happening: Automakers say EVs' electric motors interfere with AM frequencies, creating annoying buzzing noises and faded signals.
- Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, wants car companies to maintain free access to broadcast radio as a public safety measure.
- Seven former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrators also raised the issue in a recent letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and several congressional committees, per the Wall Street Journal.
The other side: Automakers say consumers are moving away from radio and television for news and information, and so the government's emergency management system needs to adapt to new technologies, too.
- Those that have dropped AM radio say customers can still access transmissions in other ways, such as through digital streaming packages or Bluetooth connections to smartphone apps (though such services sometimes require a subscription).
- The trade association Alliance for Automotive Innovation also points out that FEMA's public warning system is designed to provide redundant alerts across multiple outlets: text messages, the Emergency Alert System on radio and television stations and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's weather radio.
- "The intent is not for the public to rely on one sole source to receive the alerts but to create a 'net' of sources in which the public can receive them," Garrick Francis, vice president of federal affairs for the alliance, wrote in a letter to Markey.
Yes, but: "Although many automakers suggested that other communication tools — such as internet radio — could replace broadcast AM radio, in an emergency, drivers might not have access to the internet and could miss critical safety information," says Markey.
- "The truth is that broadcast AM radio is irreplaceable."
By the numbers: Terrestrial radio (both AM and FM) reaches 92% of the U.S. population, more than any other medium, according to media tracking firm Nielsen.
- Nearly 50 million people listen to AM radio, according to Nielsen figures provided by the National Association of Broadcasters.
Where it stands: Of the 20 automakers surveyed by Sen. Markey, eight — BMW, Ford, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen, and Volvo — have removed AM radio from their EVs.
- Ten others — Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Lucid, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Stellantis, Subaru, and Toyota — still have it.
- General Motors and Mercedes-Benz deferred to the alliance's response.
The intrigue: While the problem of radio band interference is broadly acknowledged, only a few carmakers have taken steps to mitigate it.
- Stellantis, parent of Chrysler and Jeep, for example, uses shielded high voltage cables and connectors to cut down on interference. It's also moving the radio receivers farther from the EV components in its next-generation infotainment systems.
- Volkswagen, on the other hand, said such solutions have a significant impact on the range and performance of its EVs, due to the extra weight.
2. Using AI to predict food crises
Machine learning techniques can be used to predict food insecurity outbreaks long before they become critical humanitarian disasters, according to a new study, Axios' Ayurella Horn-Muller reports.
Why it matters: The timely disbursement of aid can be a matter of life or death during a food crisis.
Driving the news: In a new Science Advances study, researchers used deep learning to extract relevant text from more than 11 million news articles published between 1980 and 2020 that focused on food-insecure countries.
- Researchers found that analyzing that coverage made it easier to predict food insecurity outbreaks up to a year ahead of time.
- The end result: An early warning system that mines news coverage to predict food crises more accurately than the traditional risk systems currently used across 37 food-insecure countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
What they're saying: The findings could have "profound implications" for distributing resources ahead of a looming food crisis, Samuel Fraiberger, a World Bank Group data scientist and co-author of the paper, tells Axios.
Go deeper: Robots are your new office security guard
3. Drones on campus
A group of University of Arkansas students are experimenting with ways to use drones to improve campus safety, Axios' Alex Golden reports.
- The students are working alongside drone delivery startup (and Walmart partner) DroneUp as part of a program at the school's McMillon Innovation Studio.
Catch up quick: The McMillon Innovation Studio offers extracurricular activities for students interested in entrepreneurship.
- The DroneUp partnership started after Ilya Tlumach, the company's vice president of learning and development, sat in on a studio demo day.
What to watch: This year's cohort will present their findings in May.
- Those whose projects show the most commercialization potential will go on to produce their innovation.
4. The rise of employer child care
Minnesota food giant Hormel — best known for SPAM — plans to break ground next month on a $5 million child care facility for up to 130 kids of employees and community members, Axios' Torey Van Oot reports.
The big picture: Hormel joins a small but growing group of companies offering child care in a bid to recruit and retain working parents in today's tight labor market.
- A lack of child care options is keeping record numbers of parents out of work nationally, as Axios' Emily Peck reports.
What they're saying: "You don't have a workforce if you don't have child care that [parents are] able to rely on," Angie Bissen, Hormel's manager of HR business partners, told Axios.
By the numbers: Hormel's hometown of Austin, Minn. is short an estimated 531 slots for young kids, per one survey.
Yes, but: Private investment and one-off projects won't be enough to close the gap between child care supply and demand, experts say.
Big thanks to today's What's Next copy editor, Patricia Guadalupe.
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