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JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania – Trends in the automotive industry point to a future of self-driving, electrically powered vehicles, and Johnstown needs to prepare to be part of this emerging industry, said Ray Wabley, Pitt-Johnstown professor and chairman of the corporate division.
In an event organized to showcase the region’s opportunities in the automotive revolution, the Pittsburgh Technology Council met Thursday at the John P. Murtha Center for Public Service in Pitt-Johnstown. A number of panelists demonstrated the region’s position in the changing industry.
Representatives from three Pittsburgh companies – Locomation, Aurora and Argo AI – discussed advances and challenges in bringing autonomous vehicles to the road.
The few dozen people in the audience included executives from two Johnstown software companies, Problem Solutions and Sourceree.
Problem Solutions President Mike Hruska said his company and many others in Johnstown have the potential to meet the demands of the changing automotive industry.
But work on autonomous and electric vehicles is hardly limited to software companies; It also alludes to the region’s historical strengths in engineering and manufacturing, the panelists said.
“We have a role to play in the world – the post-industrial revolution,” said Wabley. “We need to see Johnstown as part of it, not a museum.”
While the steel industry is working to reduce carbon emissions from steelmaking, it is working to make lighter vehicle frames that maximize electrical battery storage, said Hesham Ezzat, senior technical advisor at the American Iron and Steel Institute.
“Steel’s role is to continue its historic involvement in the automotive industry and support vehicle electrification,” he said.
New paints, adhesives and sealants can also contribute to a safer electric car, said David Malobicky, general manager of automotive finishes for PPG Industries, who spoke about PPG’s products that prevent dangerous overheating of electric car batteries.
Several market research reports suggest that autonomous mobile highway systems will be a global market of $ 802 billion by 2025. If you add in autonomous systems for the aerospace, marine and defense industries, the total is likely to climb to over $ 1 trillion, according to a report by the Pittsburgh Technology Council.
Aurora, a self-driving car company, is rolling out a test of automated delivery trucks this week, said Matthew Blackburn, government relations manager.
“It’s no accident that it happened in Pennsylvania,” he said. He recognized the work of State Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Richland Township, who wrote laws aimed at making electrically powered trucks more competitive. Regarding the related autonomous vehicle trend, he is working to make driverless vehicle testing legal in Pennsylvania, Blackburn said.
Aurora and its competitor Argo AI were founded by graduates from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, respectively. Both Pittsburgh companies highlighted the importance of the region’s universities in bringing the economy to automotive opportunities.
But while economic opportunity is ripe, research into self-driving vehicles comes with fears for the safety of people and the job security of tens of thousands of truckers in the state.
“The question of jobs comes up a lot,” said Blackburn. “But the reality is that the biggest difficulty in the trucking industry is finding drivers. It’s a tough job. You are separated from your family for a long time. So we don’t see autonomous trucks as a replacement for the human driver because we are dealing with a shortage. “
On the subject of trusting artificial intelligence to take the wheel of a car, Liz Fishback, Argo AI’s local and state affairs director, said the status quo is scary.
About 40,000 people in the United States die in car accidents each year, she said.
Blackburn agreed, saying the goal is for autonomous vehicles to make the roads safer.
“The thing that scares me the most – we have 40,000 people who die on the streets in the US every year and we just think that’s normal,” he said.
‘The time is now’
SAE International, formerly known as the Society of Automotive Engineers, has bought in from competing automakers to work together to set safety standards, said Frank Menchaca, vice president of growth for SAE.
“Big automakers like GM, Ford, Honda and Aurora have come together in a consortium to set standards,” he said. “The industry agrees to work together, not compete, to find out, for example, what went wrong in an automated vehicle accident.”
Some automakers have also made bold plans to phase out gasoline-powered engines by 2030. By then, most of the vehicles on the roads could be electric or hybrid, Menchaca said.
Pittsburgh Technology Council president Aubrey Russo said the changes now happening in automobiles are the most profound since the Model T rolled off the assembly line. She urged universities, corporations and government leaders in Johnstown and Pittsburgh to join in this change.
“Remember, the market is projected to hit $ 1 trillion by 2025,” she said. “The time is now and we cannot let the moment slip by.”