MSU, Texas A&M to Study How Driverless Cars Affect Future Workforce

This week, the Ypsilanti Township, MI-based American Center for Mobility, in collaboration with AARP and Waymo, announced that it has commissioned a study on how autonomous vehicles will impact transportation jobs in the future. The study is being conducted by Michigan State University and Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute.

According to a press release, the purpose of the study is to understand and quantify how driverless cars will impact those currently working driving-dependent jobs in the transportation sector, including taxi drivers, professional truck drivers, and delivery drivers. The study will also look for ways to tweak job training programs to equip more workers with the skills they’ll need to develop and deploy autonomous vehicles.

MSU will lead the study, while Texas A&M will contribute its platooning research. (In the mobility world, platooning refers to a line of trucks, communicating with and closely following one another, traveling behind a lead driver. Proponents say it’s a safer and more cost-effective way to drive fleets.)

“Our goal is to ensure that employees, employers, and policymakers are informed about the potential developments, so they can approach them proactively rather than reacting to issues as they arise,” said Soraya Kim, who is ACM’s chief innovation officer and is leading the initiative, in a statement.

ACM said there are currently about 3.5 million of these transportation professionals on the road, and since we’re entering uncharted territory with driverless cars, we don’t yet know how automation will affect these workers. However, if past technological upheavals are prologue, many transportation workers will likely be rendered obsolete. Being able to pinpoint how they might be retrained with the proper skills ahead of the mass deployment of autonomous vehicles would seem to be valuable, especially to government policymakers.

“The impacts depend largely on the way that the technology will really be introduced and utilized, as well as the readiness and rate of introduction,” said John Maddox, ACM’s president and CEO, in a statement. “No one yet knows if, how, or when jobs will be affected.”

It may seem strange that an organization like AARP is investing in self-driving car research. However, retirement communities are expected to be among the earliest adopters of autonomous vehicles to safely transport residents who can no longer drive themselves. Waymo is Google’s driverless car operation.

The ACM expects the results of the study to be available by the summer.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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