How would you tackle the driverless ADAS skills problem?

There’s a repeating theme within the technology ecosystem that acts as the foundation to driverless cars and its widespread precursor, ADAS.

Irrespective of whether a company is a disruptive VC-backed force, an established Car manufacturer or one of their suppliers (OEMs, Tier 1 and 2s, in auto industry parlance) there is one single problem which not one can resolve.

That problem is the skills deficit.

This challenge is three-fold.

1)     There are amazing universities conducting exciting research, but this is comparatively slow moving, taking years to reach a conclusion and even longer for any resulting technology to be commercially available. New technologies and their creators take a while to enter the market.

2)     Universities, which have developed supporting courses to explore and exploit this organisational expertise, are slowly churning out brilliant graduates with very little applicable experience to prospective employers. The technology is too expensive for all graduates to get experience on during their undergraduate degree.

3)     And for everyone else, whether they are universities trying to break into the sector with new courses, or employers seeking to grow their capability or breadth of education within their workforce, the speed at which they are able to launch new courses or expand is far slower moving that the industry needs. Universities are not built to move as fast as a new technology.

Let’s say that the number of universities offering relevant courses increases every year, and each churns out 30 capable graduates 3 years later, that doesn’t do anything to keep up with the speed of growth in the sector. Likewise, even if the number of courses doubled tomorrow, those students would have very little practical experience and thus, not be able to contribute for several more years. The same can be said for experienced professionals, who are even more in demand and currently the most mobile of employees – experienced professionals I have spoken with regularly skip between continents to change employers.

This is working up to create a perfect storm, and could be the greatest stalling point to the development and widespread adoption of driverless vehicles. The falling line on the graph at the top shows a steadily increasing imbalance between industry needs and available employees..

Half of the startups I have seen in the sector are bourne from university research projects, whether they remain in-house to be incubated or belong to academics or students who decided to “go it alone” – it’s a fertile place for new ideas and technologies.

Even established military technology companies are having to shift how their business paradigm interacts with the world of new technology. I recently ran a networking meetup to bring more people into the fold for driverless technology, and an internationally recognizable military technology company brand were in the second row, looking for new ideas. No longer the domain of Billion dollar industry, new ideas and experts in new fields are highly sought after, and nobody knows where they will appear – even companies making spy satellites.

So who should counter this problem within the ‘Intelligent mobility’ sector, and how? We know that no one single car manufacturer or the various supply chain companies could, irrespective of their size – it’s not what they are set up to do. They rely on the education system to do that.

But what they can do is coalesce around projects and platforms that might, at the very least, add practical experience. It’s in their best interests, because in 5 years’ time, there will be a massive shortfall in employable talent, and they will be the ones that feel that the most.

We need more good training courses, delivered by a greater number of capable Universities. Udacity’s online training has proved popular and has huge capacity, but while many employers are on board in supporting its content, and recognition as a viable feature on a potential employee’s CV, like any training or qualification – and I cannot stress this enough to graduates or prospective employees in any sector – practical experience validates its worth.

There are now more than a dozen driverless technology competitions globally, from 1/24th scale up to full size platooning competitions, many of which in North America, with a handful too in Europe, and these are a great additional training ground to validate that training.

But how many large or international competitions are there, validated and designed around countering those shortfalls and skills deficits? At the moment, the largest has a few dozen participants, nothing like the scale or ambition of equivalent competitions in, say, student motorsport. Formula Student and Formula SAE boast some 500 university teams worldwide, but only 18 or so within that competition are working in the new Driverless formula, running in Germany this year.

We created Self Driving Track Days to help lower the barrier to building this experience, whether companies see it as an opportunity for testing vehicles, or trying to find out whether a non-Automotive industry company might have something to offer from their expertise in video graphics, AI, big data, robotics, mapping, software engineering or some other area.

These events allow experts from around industry to engage with students or companies outside the traditional supply chain and bring them into the fold. Advice, experience, exposure to the technology, all of which working towards a longer term aim of getting more people interested, informed and involved.

We are far from finished. We know that Self Driving Track Days is, and will continue to be, a product in development. We are changing it, developing it, adding to it, but we felt we needed to do something to make a difference. We are not VC backed, we don’t have shareholders, but we are very proud to work with people across the industry that we admire, and likewise, receive their support for what we do, whether that is this project, AutoSens, or the other activities we’re planning over the next couple of years.

We’ll be working with established players, on different continents, having informal and formal partnerships to make exciting, worthwhile and valuable things happen that benefit the industry – and we are far from finished, in fact, the SDTD project is only four and a half months old. For us, it’s very early days, but I hope that you will be part of the journey.

We might not always get it right, but we will keep going until you think we have.

So now it’s your turn. What are you doing?