Research, talent, testing, and STEM were CAAT conference topics

Educators, administrators, policymakers, and other stakeholders gathered at Macomb Community College South Campus in April to talk mobility at the Center for Advanced Automotive Technology half-day conference. The event theme was “Testing Tomorrow’s Autonomous Vehicles Today,” and speakers shared information about mobility’s future, the pace at which autonomous technology is tested, the industry’s impact on the workforce, and STEM activities taking place here in southeast Michigan.

Mobility professionals rarely gather without talking about timeline predictions for connected and autonomous vehicles. Keynote speaker Carla Bailo, president and CEO at Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor shared many scenarios for 2020, 2025, 2030, and beyond, based on the volumes of research her organization compiles. The changes ahead will be rapid-pace, and highly collaborative.

By 2022, all vehicles will be equipped with driver support, but the way drivers connect with their cars may take some time to evolve. “We’ve learned that people don’t understand why the car is beeping at them, so 65 percent of drivers are just turning the assist warnings off,” says Bailo. “They don’t understand it. Technology isn’t always the answer. Instead it’s about human behavior.”

As consumers look for alternatives to owning their own vehicles, sharing models that offer convenience will become a popular alternative by 2025, Bailo says. And, by 2030, Level 5 autonomy, where full self-driving vehicles can negotiate all on- and off-road conditions in all types of weather, will intermingle on the roads with legacy vehicles. By then, 26.2 percent of all global miles traveled will be shared miles, compared to the 4 percent of today. While some drivers will enjoy the “mobility security blanket” of having their own vehicle that costs approximately $750 per month to sit in the driveway 95 percent of the time, others will rely on innovative mobility solutions to get around.

Customer choices for their next vehicle vary depending upon the country. In China, for example, 40 percent want a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV), and in Germany the number is 23 percent, while in the U.S., just 15 percent want their next car to be HEV.

So what does research say about the future use of innovative mobility services? Not surprisingly, target markets will be densely-populated urban centers that are both walkable and accessible by public transportation. Here, millennials as well as aging baby boomers will be looking for alternatives to driving personal vehicles. Yet the younger the individual, the higher the level of comfort for fully-automated vehicles. According to research from 2016, 14 percent of 65- to 74-year olds would be comfortable with full automation, while 40 percent of 25- to 34-year olds say bring on the autonomous cars.

Carla Bailo, president and CEO, Center for Automotive Research
With regard to connected vehicle technology, 2025 will see gradual vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) deployment, with just 20 percent of intersections equipped to communicate with vehicles. Fifteen years later, 80 percent of intersections will be similarly equipped. This is technology that the U.S. Department of Transportation started researching in 1990.

As our transportation preferences and methods change, so will our land use. How, exactly, is up for debate. One scenario predicts more sprawl, as people become more comfortable with work commutes where they are simply passengers, and can devote travel time to work, reading, or other leisure activities in the vehicle. Yet, since Americans began driving to work in the 1950s, research has consistently shown that individuals are not comfortable with any commute that takes more than 60 minutes.

A second scenario shows more urban density, which will require walking districts and green spaces that people want to live in and near. “This all relates to urban planning, and we need to start thinking differently,” Bailo says,

From a workforce perspective, the mobility sector brings many opportunities in development, manufacturing, and repair, but successful growth in STEM talent must be a “triple helix” investment, says Bailo. Government, educational organizations, and industry must work together to capture the interest of young people, and show them the wide variety of jobs available in STEM fields.

Extra-curricular activities and clubs go a long way for kids to experience real-world applications of STEM concepts. For example, more than 75 percent of FIRST Robotics alumni are students or professionals in STEM. Girls Who Code has about 5,000 college-aged alumni, and among those who have declared a major, they are choosing computer science or a related field at 15 times the national average. Finally, among students who attended Manufacturing Day 2016, 64 percent said they were more motivated to choose careers in manufacturing.

Mobility is also an opportunity to make some real change with regard to workforce diversity, according to research. Change is slow, and, in some cases, the numbers are going in the wrong direction.

“This is my favorite topic,” says Bailo, who has bachelor- and master-level degrees in mechanical engineering. “I graduated from university in 1983, and my freshman class was 25 percent female in 1978 when I started. This year, females made up 17 percent. Women make more than 65 percent of the decisions in the household, but we have a very different existence in the corporate boardroom. GM is the only automaker with a 52 percent female board.”

Women in STEM need to mentor other women, and provide a face for success in these technical fields, says Bailo. “I was a significant mentor, and had 15 to 17 young peopole mentoring with me in a single year. This is so important, especially for women who don’t have a lot of other women to look up to.” Individuals need also to take on leadership roles at a younger age, through mentorships and co-ops, Bailo says.

“Always think when you put a team together, it means diversity of thought, too,” says Bailo. “You need a list-maker, a thought person, a realist, a devil’s advocate. This is what drives innovation.”

Learn more about the Center for Advanced Automotive Technology, and check out speaker presentations from Mark Chaput, VP of construction and infrastructure and development at the American Center for Mobility, Jace Allen, business development manager of simulation, test, and electrical/electronics data management at dSpace, Inc., Michele Economou Ureste, executive director at Workforce Intelligence Network, and Bob Feldmaier, director at CAAT, Macomb Community College.
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