For the month of February, the University of Michigan, partnered with Mcity, will be hosting various online “teach-outs” regarding research on self-driving cars and the implementation of such technology in contemporary society.

Teach-outs are academic tools developed at the University that aim to bridge the gap between researchers and academics and the broader public, allowing both groups to engage in meaningful conversation. The teach-out series was launched by the Office of Academic Innovation in March 2017, modeled after the teach-in strategy that also began at the University and was employed during the civil rights movement. Ranging in all subjects these teach-out courses can be accessed by anyone who is interested, at no cost.

Mcity, a mock city located on Michigan’s North Campus, was built in order to test wirelessly connected and driverless vehicles. The project, which started in 2015, has a public-private partnership with leaders in the automotive and technology industry plus University researchers and government entities. One goal for Mcity is to create a working system of both automated and connected vehicles within Ann Arbor by the year 2021.

The teach-out course on self-driving cars hosts faculty from across the University, including representatives from the Ross School of Business, Ford School of Public Policy and College of Engineering. The Office of Academic Innovation reached out to Mcity faculty and researchers to offer their expertise on the subject, as their work surrounding the driverless shuttle and automatic vehicles has garnered attention in recent years.

Rachel Niemer, director of strategic initiatives in the Office of Academic Innovation, explained the importance of incorporating perspectives from both the public and the academy into the course, especially in regards to transportation accessibility and potential ethical questions. With self-driving cars becoming a growing field of study and experimentation, this teach-out aims to bring various groups of people together in one conversation.

“One of the things that we want to do with the teach-outs is bring together interdisciplinary groups of faculty and scholars to talk about contemporary issues,” Niemer said.

Deputy Director of Mcity Carrie Morton is an instructor for the self-driving cars teach-out, along with other Mcity team members. Beyond online lectures highlighting the technological details of self-driving cars, the teach-outs will feature an open forum for participants to discuss the hopeful expectations for this new and transformative societal advancement, as well as concerns. According to Morton, the University is the best institution to be studying this technology and the societal implications that may follow.

“We can help educate the public on this emerging transformation,” Morton said. “There’s no one better to do that than the experts here at the University of Michigan.”

Students have also gotten involved in this initiative, as Mcity offers a TechLab course through the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship. The program is a year-long fellowship that matches students with transportation start-up companies and is open to students across the University.

Engineering junior Rourke Pattullo worked with Tome, one of TechLab’s sponsor companies based out of Royal Oak, Michigan. There, he helped to design sensor devices to detect the presence of bicyclists and pedestrians and transmit that information to self-driving cars in the area. While at Mcity, Pattullo worked at the North American International Auto Show, where he interacted with the public and saw the reservations some people had about the new technology. These teach-outs, Pattullo said, offer the public a seat at the table and allow them to learn more about the technology in a way they couldn’t before.

“I think these talks are the right thing to do, in that people want to learn about this technology, they just don’t have any unbiased resources to learn about it,” Pattullo said. “I would like to see more automakers and self-driving focused companies actually start to host these themselves.”


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