On July 5th, Volvo became the first automaker to announce that by 2019, all vehicles sold by the automaker will be electric or hybrid. While automakers have dabbled in the field of electric and autonomous vehicles, this step by Volvo is significant in that it shows us how close the automotive revolution truly is. Volvo attributed their decision to their company’s emphasis on safety and environmental responsibility, hoping to reduce the emissions output of their entire fleet.
With that in mind, the most recent large scale safety implementation is coming from another European company, Volkswagen. Volkswagen announced the same week that they would be partnering with Nvidia to expand its usage of artificial intelligence and deep learning technologies throughout their car lineups. Volkwagen’s luxury brand, Audi, is expected to roll out their first self-driving cars by 2020 powered by Nvidia technology. The emphasis for these new cars is not simply connectivity but an emphasis on “machine learning” in the hopes that the cars will not only be safe to begin with, but also have the ability to “learn from experience”. Dr. Martin Hofmann, Chief Information Officer of Volkswagen Group says: Artificial intelligence is the key to the digital future of the Volkswagen Group. We want to develop and deploy high-performance AI systems ourselves. This is why we are expanding our expert knowledge required. Cooperation with NVIDIA will be a major step in this direction.”
While Nvidia, one of the largest producers of compute graphics cards in the world, already has a large talent pipeline of computer scientists, they are hoping to attract the next generation of coders to wield dual interests in both transportation and coding. To that end, Volkswagen and Nvidia have announced their efforts to sponsor a “Summer of Code” camp for high performing students with qualifications in IT, mathematics, or physics will have the opportunity to develop deep learning methods in teams and implement them in a robotics environment.
As robotics and coding become more and more integral to new transportation technologies, the types of careers that fall under the transportation industry umbrella widens. What used to be a career tree limited to engineering and construction is now open to anyone with an interest in computers, protecting the environment, and much more. While this is extremely positive for the possibility of attracting more young students to transportation careers, the industry must also make efforts to advertise the relationship between the two. Whereas 50 years ago someone starting a civil engineering major in college had a reasonable idea of what their career may be afterwards, the same is not true today for someone beginning a career in computer science, due to the synergy that exists between all the disciplines.
Computer coding has become and will remain the fastest growing field of study for the foreseeable future. However, given the myriad of opportunities that exist, the transportation industry should make special efforts to engage these students. This includes transportation groups and at the state and federal level, professional organizations in transportation, and private industry partners. With two major car companies already looking to adopt electric and autonomous vehicles in the next two years, the question is not whether or not the transportation revolution is going to happen, but whether or not the industry is ready for it.