Automakers under pressure to reinvent the industry

Automakers face unprecedented technological changes and market trends that will ultimately force them along with the Cleveland Browns and the Democratic Party to reinvent their business models. Sources of disruption include electric vehicles; connectivity; autonomous vehicles, including trucks; changing patterns of car ownership and use; and on-demand ride services.

Car companies face an array of new competitors. Besides their traditional rivals, new market entrants including Google, Apple, Tesla, Uber, and Lyft, are fielding new technology vehicles.

Technology is but one of the threats that connected, automated and autonomous driving are introducing to the industry. Connected vehicles are able to “talk” with one-another through radio frequency devices or cellular technology.

General Motors plans to have connected vehicles on the street by the end of the year. The 2017 Cadillac CTS sports sedan will offer technology that allows sharing information about driving conditions like weather, speed, sudden braking and more. Other automakers are expected to follow suit.

Automated and autonomous driving is more complicated. Automated cars use on-board sensors and systems to aid the driver, while autonomous vehicles actually do the driving. It is unclear whether fully autonomous vehicles are 10 or 15 years away.

Autonomous vehicles may get the attention, but the notion of cars talking to one another is the real deal. Vehicle connectivity has garnered great interest from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Holy Grail of connectivity is vehicles talking with one another without human intervention. The feds have bet that such communication will prevent millions of crashes that result in thousands of fatalities. Last December, USDOT proposed rules requiring that all new cars and small trucks contain technology allowing them to broadcast data to other vehicles within a 984-foot radius about their speed, location and direction.

The proposed rules will standardize how one car talks to another and warns drivers, and eventually autonomous vehicles, about potential dangers. The car- maker determines what to do with the data, be it automated braking or a visual dashboard warning. At an intersection, vehicles would decide if you have enough time to make that right on red and who gets to go next at a four-way stop.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) equipment and supporting communications functions would cost about $350 per vehicle in 2020. If the rule is adopted, the feds say all new cars would have the technology in four years.

The rule would not require existing vehicles to be retrofitted. As technology evolves, automobiles will likely become more connected to people’s home and mobile devices, and integrated into the internet of things.

Deployment of V2V technologies faces a number of hurdles, such as data security and privacy concerns. If V2V communications get hacked, the possibilities for traffic accidents increases.

Then there is the question of the underlying technology that would enable V2V communication. The feds mandate the use of dedicated short-range communications (DSRC). Many believe DSRC is obsolete and that newer technologies, such as 5G cellular wireless to power smartphone communication, will be released before DSRC market penetration is achieved.

Moreover, critics argue that cellular has already built infrastructure in the form of cell towers, obviating the need to for state and local governments to roll out dedicated short-range receivers on roadside infrastructure.

The other half of the communication network is vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I). USDOT plans to issue guidance on V2I communications, which in theory should help transportation planners integrate the technologies to allow vehicles to “talk” to roadway infrastructure such as traffic lights, stop signs, and work zones to improve mobility, reduce congestion, and improve safety.

No matter how the technology battle sorts out, the car of the future will be connected. Our transportation system is on the cusp of a transformation, with technology bridging the gap between vehicles and intelligent roadside infrastructure, creating a network that works like the internet and can prevent collisions, keep traffic moving and reduce environmental impacts.

Originally posted: January 21, 2017

In Afghanistan, little to show for America’s longest war

It is the longest war in U.S. history, yet it hardly gets any attention. The public may be suffering from Afghan fatigue, especially when there is little to show for the expenditure of life and treasure.

It has been 15 years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to hunt down the architects of the 9/11 attacks. The invasion was an integral piece of President Bush’s hastily conceived “Global War on Terrorism.” By the end of 2001, American forces had toppled the Taliban government. Mission accomplished.

Afghanistan is a country of about 30 million people, approximately the size of Texas, nestled between Pakistan, Iran, and several former Soviet republics. Its location has made it a source of significant geopolitical interest and tension since the 19th century.

The country has historically been wrought with turbulence, characterized by chronic instability and repeated bouts of civil war. Since 329 B.C., when Alexander the Great came to Kabul, Afghanistan has been invaded by Arabs, Chinese, Mongols, Moghuls, the British, and the Soviets. As scholars have written, Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires.

The Taliban took over in 1996. This fundamentalist Islamic group formed from remnants of the Mujahideen (holy warriors) who battled the Soviets for over a decade.

The United States has spent over $1 trillion on fighting and reconstruction, building an Afghan army, instilling western values in a land of warlords and tribal hostilities, and establishing a functioning democracy in a place that has never been changed by a foreign power. Over 2,200 American lives have been sacrificed.

According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, about $115 billion has been spent to support Afghanistan relief and assist the government. Yet the World Bank reports that it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and three quarters of the population is illiterate.

While the United States and NATO formally ended the war in Afghanistan on December 28, 2014, a force of 8,500 Americans remains to train and support the Afghan security forces.

Since the Taliban fell, some progress has arguably been made in opening up the country and expanding democratic freedoms, especially among women. However, lack of security still impedes development, and corruption remains a significant barrier to progress. The 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Afghanistan 166th out of the 168 countries monitored. Taliban insurgency is on the rise, drug trafficking flourishes, human rights abuses continue, the rule of law is weak. All the while the U.S. picks up the tab for the Afghan army and police, and continues to provide foreign aid.

Billions have been wasted on fruitless projects that are awash in corruption and have little government oversight, according to the Special Inspector General. This office has documented a greatest hits compilation of waste, fraud and abuse in U.S. government-sponsored programs.

Among the more egregious boondoggles was importing rare blond male Italian goats to mate with female Afghan goats and make cashmere. The $6 million program included shipping nine male goats to western Afghanistan, setting up a farm, lab, and staff to certify their wool.

But the entire herd of female goats was wiped out by disease. As a result, only two of the imported Italian goats are still usable; it could not be confirmed whether the others were dead or alive.

Another baaad idea. You goat to be kidding.

That was not the only example of wasting American taxpayer money. The Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations spent nearly $150 million for employees to stay in private luxury villas with flat-screen TVs rather than bunking at military bases. Another $43 million was spent on a gas station that should have cost about $500,000.

America may have good intentions, but we know which road is paved with those. We will be mowing the grass in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up the hill for all eternity.

originally published: January 7, 2017