Podcast: How Autonomous Vehicles Create a More Inclusive & Diverse Workplace

Future of Work Podcast, Episode 15

Amitai Bin-Nun, Vice President of Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility Innovation at Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE), discusses the factors that autonomous vehicle manufacturers need to consider from an inclusive design standpoint, and the potential this technology holds to bring new talent into the workforce.

This podcast is developed in partnership with Workology.com as part of PEAT's Future of Work series, which works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities.​

View All Episodes



Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to the workology podcast a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller Merrill founder of workology dot.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends tools and case studies for the business leader H.R. and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. NOW HERE'S JESSICA. With this episode of workology.

Jessica: [00:00:25] According to the most recent U.S. Census almost 20 percent of people living in the USA have a mobility sensory cognitive or other impairment. In 2010 many modes of transportation are inaccessible unreliable or ill suited for people with disabilities and older adults which means fewer opportunities for employment housing healthcare and education. This podcast is sponsored by clear company autonomous vehicles. Offer a way to improve mobility for people with disabilities helping them not only get to work but lead a more mobile and empowered life. The technology behind this is still very new but it offers a lot of promise for not only people with disabilities but also the aging workforce. This also benefits employers and those under represented groups have access to transportation and filling roles within your organization. Plus who doesn't want to be in traffic less and autonomous vehicles offer lots of opportunities for everyone. In this episode of the workology podcast this is part of our Future of Work series powered by PEAT. The partnership unemployment and accessible technology. We will be hearing about autonomous vehicles and self-driving technology how it is being shaped as was how this tech is helping change the future of job creation unemployment and the talent landscape. Today I'm joined by Amitai Bin-Nun. He is the vice president of autonomous vehicles and mobility innovation at securing America's future energy or safe which seeks to accelerate the deployment of vehicle automation and maximize the energy security and social benefits of the technology. Amitai came to save from the innovation team at KPMG strategy where he advised executives on the implications of emerging vehicle technologies and partnered with IBM Watson to explore potential financial service applications for cognitive computing. Amitai is a former associate at the Harvard Kennedy School Science Technology and Public Policy Program RMIT. Welcome to the workology podcast.

Amitai: [00:02:33] Thank you Jessica. It's really great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Jessica: [00:02:37] Can you tell us a little bit about your background.

Amitai: [00:02:40] Sure. So my my my name is Amitai Bin-Nun and then I am the vice president of autonomous vehicle at safe or securing America's future energy. We're a advocacy group in DC that works on using transportation technologies to improve to improve our national welfare. So we do a lot of work on the energy side to make transportation less dependent on oil and we also do a lot of work on autonomous vehicles to ensure that they're safe. And how policymakers use the technology to drive as much social benefit as possible. This is actually the culmination of this has been the latest role I've had in my career. I originally started off as a scientist I had a patchy in theoretical physics and the reason I was drawn to physics because I wanted to understand the world that a very deep level and understand truth about the world. And I think one of the truth I discovered is by having spent several years studying science and graduate school was that the most impact you could have and the most one of the most important things you could do is help drive change and drive a better society through the policy process. And so I became very involved in science and technology policy which I saw as the way to help science helped new inventions help engineering accomplish positive things because I believed so much in the value of science and technology. I believe so much in its potential to do good things for our society. But I also think our society needs to keep up and understand the technology so that's using the most positive way possible. So it's been really gratifying to do that and I've had a series of several roles before safe where I worked on either energy or transportation policy to really help drive technology to do good things for our society.

Jessica: [00:04:32] Awesome well I can't wait to have you really talk to us and educate us and share some great insights on autonomous vehicles and how the technology is changing and some of the different trends that we'll talk about today. I do want to talk about maybe some of the fear or concern about technology and automation behind autonomous vehicles why we get started maybe just kind of personally you know address it. I think it's exciting. It's also a little scary but I understand the resistance that some people might feel about this new kind of tech in this different way of living. Can you talk to us about how autonomous vehicles are the future and what benefits your you see that they will be providing the population.

Amitai: [00:05:16] I think you you've put it very well in terms of you've outlined that there was both excitement about the technology and some people are nervous about it and I want to say this is something that we've seen before with with every time there's a major technological shift in our society there is always anxiety there's always some anxiety around that whether we go back to the industrial revolution in the 18th century or the urbanization of our society at the dawn of the dawn of the 20th century or what we saw around the growth of computers in the Internet in the 80s and 90s. And so I think I think there is there's a reason why autonomous vehicles are the latest iteration of this. On the one hand the technology is different it changes the way we get around our world and our transportation is a fundamental part of our identity the fundamental way we go about our life and autonomous vehicles could really change. It could really change us at a fundamental level. And so there's a lot of uncertainty about what our lives will look like when this new technology is here and there's widespread. I think working our way through this stage is really worth it because of just how much promise that technology has. We we need to travel around every day to do our business. We need to pursue economic opportunities. We need to pursue social opportunity. We have a big appetite for travel and because it's something we have to do. We're willing to pay the price and we pay that price with our money because transportation is to almost 20 percent of the average household budget. We pay with our time we based about 7 billion out we're sitting in traffic and and we pay for that and we pay with our lives. About thirty seven thousand people died on U.S. roads last year due due to due to car acts as car car crashes. So autonomous vehicles offer the promise of getting rid of reducing all of these tolls guy giving us back some of our time giving us back by offering cheaper opportunities transportation making access to transportation more democratic both in terms of people's financial different financial status also people of different abilities. And finally it can really save some of the massive human toll that we paid for the right to travel those 37000 lives that are lost every year and several million people who are injured and visit emergency rooms every year because of car crashes. So being able to make promise of all that I think is something that you know we can't afford not to pursue.

Jessica: [00:07:49] What are some maybe populations of people that you believe that autonomous vehicles will impact the most.

Amitai: [00:07:56] I think that the disability community comes first and that comes to mind. There's about 2 million people with a disability of working age who never leave their home because they don't have access to transportation and I don't think a self-driving car by itself solves all of that. But I think the inability to drive is a big reason why people with disabilities can't get the transportation they know they need. I think that the last government survey counted 15 million people with disability who were challenged and getting all the transportation they needed. And so this has a follow on the fact in many areas of their lives because they can't it's harder for them to travel their unemployment rate amongst people with disabilities is far higher now about 77 percent of people without a disability are employed if they're of working age and that's only about 35 percent for people with disabilities people with disabilities have to spend far more of their income on transportation if their transportation. They have fewer social opportunities and that leads to worse worse mental health outcomes. So the ability to make transportation cheaper to make it easier to make it more accessible I think is going to be a real game changer for the disability community especially if we are able to execute it right.

Jessica: [00:09:19] I really like what you said earlier and I felt like this is a great quote. Transportation is a fundamental part of our identity and life and that is true I think for everyone in being able to be mobile and accessible to get to and from whether it's to work or personal doctor for your family is important part of life as a human being.

Amitai: [00:09:41] Absolutely. I think it's we don't think of it right. We don't think of it as a fundamental activity like eating or breathing but it's just as we are. And it's so ingrained into our routine. But it's it's it's it's what allows us to do everything. It's enabling of all of our it is and there is this that I just read before the car was invented. The average American traveled about 300 miles a year. Today the average American travels fifteen thousand miles a year. That's a factor of fifty increase. And and that's just because there's all this opportunity out there. And if you can't if you're a church travel challenge that means you are not able to get the same opportunities as everyone else and we think that's a that is something that is something that should be fun. That is a fundamental right. We think a fundamental right that should be should be given to everyone to be able to chase the opportunity to fulfill their needs as a social being. So the fact that there's a new technology that can help with that is really exciting.

Jessica: [00:10:46] Much of your work is focused on developing and introducing regulations for autonomous vehicles to keep us safe. Can you talk about some of the new regulations that you're working on.

Amitai: [00:10:55] Well thank you. I think the most intense regulatory focus right now is around developing the regulations that govern how autonomous vehicles are allowed on the on this road. And right I mean I think it's intuitive to people. People might intuitively think that just like you have to take a driver's test before you get on the road as a person. There is some sort of driver's test for autonomous vehicles. Well that really hasn't been invented yet and the government hasn't fully fleshed out its approach to encouraging the full deployment of autonomous vehicles and letting companies specifically design new autonomous vehicles that look different than today's cars. And that's going to be important because those vehicles could be more energy efficient those vehicles could be more accessible. And I think it's also going to be helpful to convince the public that these vehicles are safe if there's a well-developed regulatory framework that governs how companies put these vehicles on the road. So I work directly with the federal government and some state governments on that. I also work with a lot of regulations are written by independent standards bodies that are not part of the government but work closely with them. So I I work with some of those standards committees as well. I also want to highlight some of the work I do outside the safety regulation part and that is I'm working with the California Public Utilities Commission which is the body that governs basically like TNC that the Uber and Lyft in California. So they are making a rule for what what are the rules surrounding autonomous vehicles that are used in ridesharing and they set up a task force to specifically deal with the accessibility issue. And so I am on the task force along with a lot of disability advocates and transportation groups and private companies that are trying to determine what the right set of rules are to make autonomous vehicles accessible when they're used in consumer applications in California.

Jessica: [00:12:57] Awesome I hadn't thought about. I mean you know our focus is on autonomous vehicles. And I hadn't thought about you know the Uber is in the lifts and those ride share services. But I have seen my share of those vehicles out there and we do want to make sure that they're safe on the road and I'm glad that you have your advocate hat on as a scientist but as somebody who is really focused on also accessibility for for all persons to be able to access this tech.

Amitai: [00:13:26] Yeah I think I mean I know someone who's taking the big picture. I think it's just really important. I think it's important that everyone realize that if enough technology is exclusive if it's being given to society in a way that's own That leaves large portions of the populations behind. I think it's going to be less successful than if it's deployed to the public in a way that creates opportunities includes groups that had previously been more marginalized and doesn't leave portions of our population behind with a disability community or whether that's truckers who are worried about their job or whether it's economically disadvantaged communities. I think the more we can make the technology a win for everyone the more we can drive the benefits to people who aren't necessarily the big winners and the big that far ahead in our society today. I think the more impactful it's going to be and I think the more I think the more society will clamor for it will want the technology and the easier easier time it will have. Getting the broad acceptance it needs to have that impact.

Jessica: [00:14:39] Can you talk to us about some of the features and accessible components that are being introduced in autonomous vehicles right now.

Amitai: [00:14:45] So I think there is a few companies that are working specifically on accessible shuttles so I think those are companies like Local Motors and Nava less easy mail that are making large wheelchair accessible shuttles and I think those are some of those have you know have wheelchair ramps integrated into them. And I think there's certainly looking into potentially outfitting some of them with lifts. So I think so I think that those are really interesting spaces to watch there. There are large shuttles that look like there are shuttles they look like mini buses and right now they're constrained to campuses and private properties because the regulations aren't in place to allow them to operate on public roads and technologically I'm not sure that they're there yet but so those are I think some of those accessible accessible examples that are that that are coming. I think right now a lot of the technologies that are being worked on in Silicon Valley and in Pittsburgh and being tried and being trialled in Arizona is pre commercial. And I think but I think as it becomes available to the public and I think you know I both think and hope that accessibility will be a big part of the design and consideration when companies think about what platform what sort of vehicles they use know certainly for example to use going to be easier to retrofit a minivan to be wheelchair accessible than you know than than a small sedan. But I think I think you know companies are just at the point where they're making those they're making those decisions. So I think it's important for us to have this conversation to stress the importance of accessibility. The talk about the role of autonomous vehicles for the disability community so that that perspective is fully integrated and companies make their make their long term deployment plans.

Jessica: [00:16:49] Let's take a reset. This is Jessica Miller Merrill. And you're listening to the work ology podcast. Today we are talking with Amitai Bin-Nun about autonomous vehicles and accessibility. This podcast is sponsored by clear company and is part of our future work series in partnership with the partnership Unemployment and accessible technology or PEAT.

Break: [00:17:11] Podcast support provided by clear company a complete talent management platform designed to help small and medium sized companies hire retain and engage players. Clear company to sign up for a free personalized demo.

Jessica: [00:17:25] You know you mentioned a little bit earlier about Uber and Lyft and your involvement on the task force and really as someone who can kind of be an advocate for the development of this tack focused on people with disabilities. I wondered about like product and development testing. How are organizations or companies involving a diverse group of people in that testing process to make sure that we have you know lifts and design dad is accessible and inclusive for all.

Amitai: [00:17:57] So I think it's a and I think this is a great question because I think it is a two way street and that you know that the reality of of advocacy advocacy today. So yes I certainly see signs and certainly see companies that are bringing in disability groups to introduce them to the technology to talk about requirements. And and I think that is very encouraged by when Google first introduced the self-driving car to the public. They introduced it by unveiling a video of a blind man who who you. Who is given access to the car for the day and used it to ask the car to take him to pick up his dry cleaning and go for a taco at Taco Bell because I think that just underscored. How mundane driving is for a lot know a large part of the large part of the population. But for people who can't drive those tasks or a simple task or take up a good part of those days. So when you gave this person who couldn't drive the ability to use a self-driving car for a day what did he want to do. He just wanted do the mundane chores that would otherwise not have taken most of the day for him. So that just gets me also too. I also think that there is a responsibility for the disability community to advocate for themselves in this role and to be proactive in policy circles and with companies and making their needs heard and articulated and be speaking with as unified a voice as possible about what what the set of requirements should be. And I think we saw some engagement from the disability community when I worked on some legislation with it that was coming in for the U.S. centered around autonomous vehicle. And that was actually very effective in getting certain accessibility provisions added to the legislation. But I think that only happens when the community comes together to speak for itself and does so in an organized fashion and it's something I would just love to see even more of.

Jessica: [00:20:05] I've had on this podcast a number of gas that have talked about the topic of artificial intelligence machine learning and robot automation and these self-driving driving cars are really part of that A.I. revolution. I wanted to ask you how are you ensuring that this technology is monitored and being used for social good and I know you talked a little bit about this but I wondered about a number of states that are very concerned about letting autonomous vehicles on the road whether it's for for testing and even the eventuality that will be happening when we'll be driving among them.

Amitai: [00:20:43] So it sounds like the question is but I think let me to answer the question on a high level technology is not inherently good or bad. Technology is is a capability that can be used and people and governments and societies choose how they use technology whether it's to make a citizen's life better or in other cases maybe not as good outcomes. So I would say that is a question that really resonates with me. It's the one I've really dedicated my career to which is thinking through how society engages with technology in order to use it productively. And I think that's a obviously a complicated topic. I think it takes time for a society to catch up with new technologies. That's a trend we've seen over and over and over again. And I think part of the way we do that is by investing in the nonprofits and advocacy groups who have the technical capabilities to interact with technology and help govern it for good because I think that is just enough that is an essential part of helping shape the use of technology in a positive direction. Having people who are in positions of public trust who have the capabilities to engage with the technology and shape its deployment. And so that's how we think about the question broadly specifically for autonomous vehicles. I think companies are to say at this point now strongly incentivized to deploy technology in a safe way. Companies that have not demonstrated good faith efforts of safety have have suffered penalties and have have often had to reduce their reduce or make their programs smaller. But that said there is a huge role for government oversight for regulatory frameworks. And I think industry does want to work with government because they understand that for the public to trust their technology they need to be responsive to the public through some mechanism and the best way to do that is with a government that understands that this technology has a lot of potential and we need to create a regulatory framework that allows it to have the impact that it's capable of but also provides the public with the reassurance that there is oversight that there are standards and that companies that don't make good faith efforts will be held accountable. And I think that's a process and it's a process that I'm part of. Spend a lot of time working on I know a lot of other people who have dedicated their careers to that part of the process of building that sort of that oversight system that allows for innovation and also reassures the public. And I think it's something that we're in we're in the process of building.

Jessica: [00:23:23] Thank you for that response to that particular question because I think that it's for me it's not just about autonomous vehicles but it's about that oversight across all different types of technology autonomous vehicles is one use for artificial intelligence and machine learning. There are many others and I think that there are other industries that could follow suit to the seriousness and the role that so many advocates are playing an autonomous vehicle space.

Amitai: [00:23:56] I think right I mean you just have to read the news to understand that right we don't we don't fully understand the implications of social media artificial intelligence our ability to deploy cameras with facial recognition and I'm confident that I'm a big believer in a big optimist and the potential of technology. I am optimistic that with the right resources and the right investments and civil society and the right. And getting the right people who are counted who have the right talent to go into roles of public trust that we can catch up our social infrastructure and our regulatory infrastructure and our understanding of social spaces to better leverage and use this technology. I'm particularly excited to work with autonomous vehicles. I think it's a lot clearer to articulate what the benefits are and how it can be impact society in a positive transformative ways in a way. I think my job is a lot easier than some people who are dealing with some of the other challenges that I just outlined. But you know absolutely I think now I'm tremendously optimistic that we can we can meet this challenge and use technology for good.

Jessica: [00:25:12] Since I work in H.R. I am also thinking a lot about how this technology impacts the workforce and we had an earlier podcast interview with a futurist and H.R. SpaceX named Peter Weddle and he shared that the trucking industry will be one of the first to be impacted by robots and A.I. with self-driving trucks. Instead of focusing on the fears here again I wanted to get your perspective on how this shift in an industry like trucking will create more jobs.

Amitai: [00:25:39] Thanks for bringing that perspective on it. And now this is a question we get a lot and it's something that a lot of people raise is a concern so much so that we spent almost a year working with some leading economists at Cornell University at the Wharton School University Pennsylvania case Western Reserve University on a very comprehensive report for how we think autonomous vehicles might impact the workforce. And I think what we found was right. So I mean if you think about it. Let's see back in nineteen hundred. Every other American worker almost 50 percent of American workers work in agriculture. They work on farms. Today that number is about 2 percent which means that most people who had jobs on farms no longer work no longer work on farms all those farming jobs no longer exist as farming jobs. Know it's not because Americans stopped eating so let's say you have gone back to farmers in nineteen hundred and said well over the next 50 years farming the number of farming jobs will go down a lot because we're gonna bring your tractors and equipment and better better bred crops. So we're going to be able to do more farming with less human labor that none of them would've been able to foresee that one of them would become an assembly line worker one of them may have been you know would eventually become a software engineer I know you were talking about you know over time and over generations and it's impossible to fully understand what the jobs of the future are before those jobs are created. So you know based on every precedent you've ever seen with new technology new technology changes the nature of jobs and it creates new types of job opportunities. Now we're sitting now at the other side of the Industrial Revolution the building of the interstate highway system or the building of the Internet and we are what economists call full employment. So that tells me that technology usually doesn't destroy jobs in the long term and new jobs are created to replace any jobs whose requirements are are changed. So I'm confident that that will happen with autonomous vehicles and all new types of jobs in transportation whether that's to deal with more people who will be taking transportation on demand there'll be more jobs in the supply chain and more jobs that that we don't really have a that we can't even begin to picture right now. That said I you know we do need to work to transition the workforce in a in a in a smooth way with as little disruption as possible. And I think that speaks to the need to invest more in workforce education in understanding how the skills of the workforce will evolve and and dull and investing in the sort of educational infrastructure to get us there. And our study found that if we begin to put those investments in place right now the transition to driverless trucks which we think is a multi decade old transition can go smoothly for drivers.

Jessica: [00:28:43] What other industries do you see autonomous vehicles impacting in terms of jobs hiring job creation and employment.

Amitai: [00:28:51] Yes I think that's something we looked at in this or in that report as well. And many many jobs are impacted by transportation because people have to drive to get to work. People many many many jobs require traveling and going from place to place in a car and a car. So I think some of the more visible outcomes of autonomous vehicles might be how it impacts the transportation as we currently are. Obviously it will change how we buy and sell cars or change our cars get service and we think there's a positive there's a real positive side of that because help will help chance we think I'll transform the transportation system into a better one one based more on electric vehicles and therefore a cleaner and better for our environment. Also one that is far safer and sends fewer people to the emergency room or or an early death. And so we think that's a largely positive thing. We also believe that it's going to allow make it easier for people to get to jobs and search for a broader range of jobs that they make they may currently not be open to because transportation is an issue and also will change how cities are structured. Because if you start to get rid of parking requirements that you might be able to do with self-driving cars we could see the growth of more walkable livable cities as well which might give more opportunities for you know four for retail them. We currently have. So I'm forecasting a little bit far off into the future but I think you know that's the kind of possibilities that we know that upon the possibility that we really need to be keeping our eye on so that we could realize them in the long term.

Jessica: [00:30:32] I like the idea of less parking and more more different retail stores and businesses and just maybe outdoor activities that you can take part in your city.

Amitai: [00:30:44] Me as well as someone who lives downtown who really enjoys living downtown. And I'm aware that not everyone wants to live in a downtown area and not everyone wants to live in a walkable area. But I think just given the prices that we have in city for housing and cities I think a lot more people want to than our currently able to and it will mean I hope if we make owning a car optional and parking optional more people will be able to choose the lifestyle and loving environment that they want rather than the one that no their income limits them to well thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

Jessica: [00:31:22] Where can people go and learn more about you and what you're working on.

Amitai: [00:31:27] Well thank you. We as I just mentioned I work for securing America's future energy or SAFE. You can find our Web site at w w w dot secure energy dot org. And we're also on Twitter. Now we do put out a lot of research reports and put on a lot of events in the D.C. area and also beyond. So if you follow our Web site or on our Twitter feed I think you'll you'll be able to keep up on the eye on everything that we do and I hope I hope you do that awesome.

Jessica: [00:31:58] That was really good. Thank you. One question I did want to ask you does the Cornell study that you reference is that on the website or a link somewhere. Because I think that would be really good to link to.

Amitai: [00:32:08] Sure. So that is you want to go directly to it. You it's at the Web address a v that's for autonomous vehicles. So a v workforce dot secure energy dot org. And that's kind of linked to some high level summaries of our report. Some of the really deep analysis that some of the teams did as well as a kind of a 40 page document that wraps it all together and presents it in a way that's visually compelling and accessed and visually compelling and accessible way so dependent if you want to learn more about it that's the place to go and you can go either really deep as deep as you want in it. And that's I'd say be prepared documents for all you know for at the summary level and at the really deep level so to hopefully that someone something for everyone there. And again that's a heavy work for us that secure energy that.

Jessica: [00:32:59] Awesome. I will make sure we add it to our podcast transcript so people will be able to get directly to it but I'm excited to to check it out myself.

Amitai: [00:33:07] All right. Well thank you all. Thank you. Yeah. It's a really exciting time to be working in transportation and autonomous vehicles and and technology. So I really would love to hear from many of the listeners. Now you can find me through the Web site. And looking forward to keeping engaged

Closing: [00:33:26] The word ecology podcast future of work series is supported by Pete the partnership on employment and accessible technology PEAT's initiative is to foster collaboration and action around accessible technology in the workplace. PEAT is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy. DEP. Learn more about PEAT and Peat works dot org. That's PEA t w o R.K. s dot org

Jessica: [00:33:54] As Amitai said transportation is a fundamental part of our identity and life. Autonomous vehicles make mobility and the ability to get around just to live and work that much easier especially with underrepresented groups like People with disabilities. We are at full employment and as employers we need to look at different talent pools to fill our current and future roles. The workforce in the world driven by technology is certainly changing things. We are truly living in an exciting time where the world is shifting jobs even 15 years from now. When my daughter enters the workforce will be so very different. It is up to us as a char and workplace leaders to help drive conversations and lead the way. The Future of Work series is in partnership with PEAT and they are one of my favorite groups to work with. Thank you PEAT. As well as our podcast sponsor clear company have a great day.