Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Electric Autonomous Advertisement Pods - I mean cars

Automobiles have played a major role in American economics, history, transportation, and culture.  The industry is in transition as it moves full force to create electric autonomous advertisement pods.  Yes, you read that right – ELECTRIC AUTONOMOUS ADVERTISEMENT PODS. 

Automobiles in their early days were a statement of wealth but were quickly available to the common man with the advent of Henry Ford’s assembly lines.  John Paul Getty’s Standard Oil ensured the combustion engine would monopolize the industry over Thomas Edison’s electric vehicles.   President Dwight Eisenhower created a massive network of highways that would ensure the dominance of the automobile over all other forms of transportation and underpin suburban sprawl.

The heyday of the automobile was the 1950's and 1960's when creativity and art dominated.   The major manufacturers would introduce new model years with great fanfare.  Television reached the masses and it could be used to promote sales in many ways that created an emotional attachment to brands.  Creativity also rested with individuals that could take older cars from the 1930's and 1940's and convert them into unique artistic statements as hot rods and later muscle cars.

At a recent 4th of July parade, as the antique cars passed by, my brother-in-law and I would say as they approached, “1968 Chevy Camaro, 1934 Ford Pickup, 1957 Thunderbird, etc.”  A nephew of about 35 years of age watching the parade with his own young children said, “how do you guys know all of these old cars so well?”   I said, “in our time cars were a work of art.  When the new model year was rolled out there were themes like the introduction of two-tone paint, or push button transmissions, or rocket lights reflecting the space age.   They were things of beauty and innovation that we all wanted.  Cars today for your generation, like so much else today, are consumable items. They all look the same.  You lease them and turn them in.  Do you foresee anyone coming to a parade like this when you are our age saying, “Oh, wow, there goes a 2015 Nissan Rogue or a 2007 Toyota Corolla?”

Cars were a common shared experience for the Baby Boom generation.  Teens were bursting to obtain their license.  It was a means and a symbol of independence.  They almost immediately purchased a car for as little as $50 (my first was that price - a 1961 Dodge Dart).  They paid for the car, the insurance, and the gas.  They did everything in their cars.  On weekend nights they rode up and down Main Street, stopping for an ice cream and to talk with friends.  Boys did much of the maintenance themselves.  Girlfriends and boyfriends went “parking” at the reservoir or some other place for romantic encounters at the end of a date.  Cars were an integral part of their culture.

By the mid-1970's another shift was occurring.   Japanese manufacturers began to increase U.S. market share.   In 1976, GM and Ford alone held over 70% of the U.S. automobile market.    Quality and reliability were poor.  Massive cars with fuel efficiencies of 6 or 7 miles to the gallon were common in a time of OPEC embargoes and mile-long gas station lines.  It was all down hill from there.   

GM and Ford barely hold 30% of the U.S. market today.  The good news is that over 75% of Japanese model cars are manufactured in the U.S.  But the automobile industry increasingly became, post 1975, a utilitarian market of increasing efficiency and reliability built on technology advances.   

Another major upheaval is underway in the automobile industry. It will have greater impact than all that came before.    Four major changes are underway: 1) conversion from internal combustion (gasoline) engine vehicles to electric vehicles; 2) autonomous operation of vehicles; 3) shared ownership in place of individual ownership; and 4) transformation of vehicles from transportation tools into communication tools.

On a tour of the Edison and Ford Winter Estate in Ft. Myers, Florida one can see in Edison’s laboratory a series of bottles for storing energy he called “batteries.”  In the same room is an electric vehicle that looked a little like a golf cart.   Edison was ahead of his time, but no match for the power of John Paul Getty and Standard Oil in its effort to make the internal combustion engine the exclusive domain of vehicles that would depend on Standard Oil.  But Edison beat Getty in his attempts to lock the nation into kerosene lamps and in the end he is going to beat him as the nation and the world begin a transition to electric vehicles.  

The conversion to electric vehicles is largely driven by environmental concerns that result in government policy that promotes an industrial response.   Electric vehicles still cost more to produce than their sale price.  The change is not driven by economics.   

Toyota was the first to introduce a hybrid gas and electric vehicle – the very successful Prius.   Toyota and Ford are continuing expansion of hybrid offerings but investing more in all electric vehicles.   GM and VW are all in on electric.  All of their forward investment is in electric vehicles to the total exclusion of hybrids as reported in the Wall Street Journal. 

There remain many questions about the timeline of electric vehicle progress.  For example, is the national electric grid prepared for the additional demand from charging cars?   Existing batteries have many limitations that must be overcome and there is no infrastructure of charging stations.   Consumers will have some enduring concerns about conversion as well.  It is one thing to pull into a gas station for a quick fill on a long trip, yet another to sit for hours charging.

Despite these concerns the auto manufacturers and government policy are pushing ahead on a path to make personal transportation electric.  The conversion is underway.

In a small town in Switzerland an autonomous bus has been operating for two years. The US Postal Service began testing autonomous trucks on a 1000 mile stretch from Phoenix to Dallas this year. If you own a post-2017 model car or SUV you have already experienced some of the technologies that will support the autonomous concept.    Blind spot detection, automatic breaking, lane following, and separation maintenance are examples.  

  • Level 1 automation some small steering or acceleration tasks are performed by the car
  • Level 2 automation is like advance cruise control. The car can automatically take safety actions but the driver needs to stay alert at the wheel
  • Level 3 automation still requires a human driver, but the human is able to put some “safety-critical functions” to the vehicle, under certain traffic or environmental conditions. Some car companies (Ford included) are interested in jumping directly to level 4
  • Level 4 automation is a car that can drive itself almost all the time without any human input, but might be programmed not to drive in unmapped areas or during severe weather. This is a car you could sleep in.
  • Level 5 automation means full automation in all conditions

Ford’s CEO says that his company will have a “Level 4 vehicle in 2021, no gas pedal, no steering wheel, and the passenger will never need to take control of the vehicle in a predefined area.”   Other manufacturers are making similar statements.   Rapid conversion to fully autonomous vehicles in metropolitan areas will occur throughout the 2020's.

Shared ownership transport models are going to replace individual personal vehicles.  Companies will own fleets of transport pods moving about everywhere responding to or even anticipating a need for transportation.  Think Uber and Lyft on steroids without drivers. 

There is good news in this change.  Think about how much time your personal vehicles sit idle.   We really do not use them much.   Having a three-thousand-pound vehicle that costs $40,000 or more sitting idle does not make much economic sense.   Another good part of the story is that we can then relegate fully our garages to their true purpose – storing stuff.

This change will lag electric drive and autonomous operation as it is somewhat dependent on those revolutions.  But projections are that it will begin in the 2020s and by 2050 80% of the personal transport market will be shared.

The final, and possibly most important change will be the transformation of vehicles from transportation tools into communication tools.   Companies will compete to transport people in order to gain their captive attention while inside of pods in order to communicate with them.   This is probably the scariest part of this revolution.

Digital screens are consuming time - too often in unproductive and even harmful activity.   A generation seems addicted to them.  As nicotine addicted and harmed the Baby Boom generation the screen is the addiction of Millennials and GenX with its harms unknown or hidden by the purveyors of the technology.  Sometimes it seems Big Tech may be the tobacco industry of past days in manner and effect.
The screens have invaded the automobile space over time.  Navigation screens to find our way.   Back seat movie screens and iPads to distract children.  Mobile smartphones in the hands of many drivers addicted to them causing more accidents than any other cause with untold cost in lives and wealth.

Ultimately, the screens are intended to change behavior.   To get human beings to do something - to buy something – a product, a service, an idea, an opinion, a candidate.  

The need to pay attention in a vehicle decreases the screen time available to advertise to you.  A fully autonomous vehicle frees the driver to watch screens while riding in a pod.

The average adult spends nearly one-hour daily driving.  Removing steering wheels and dashboard controls creates space for screens to deliver advertisements as restaurants and stores are passed.  Every other screen at home and work will link with the pod screen to deliver advertisements related to anything you viewed.   In home “assistants” will listen to conversations and artificial intelligence will determine appropriate advertisements to place on the pod screen for riders. 

 The auto industry and the large tech companies are fighting over who will control those screens to deliver advertisements and other digital products.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “These data-driven products could create as much as $750 billion in new revenue by 2030, including from location-based advertisements and predictive car maintenance.” 

Turn it off while in the pod?  May not be possible.  Remember, the vehicle is not yours in the future. It belongs to a company that seeks to generate revenue through your presence in the vehicle, just as Facebook and Google do now on mobile devices.

Are you ready?

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Meet the first female President of the United States

Former South Carolina Governor and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley will likely be elected the first female President of the United States.  Whether that happens in 2020, 2024, 2028, or 2032 is the question.  At 47, she will be a relatively young 60 year old candidate as far out as 2032.

Haley has six years of experience as a governor.   As Ambassador to the UN she was a standout on the international stage.  She is young.  She has solid experience.  She is a mother.  She has center-right conservative bona fides.  She is a woman of color.  She is attractive.  She is an excellent speaker and unflappable debater.  Her husband is a Major in the Army National Guard who has deployed to Afghanistan.

Last October Haley announced in the Oval Office, seated beside President Donald Trump, that she would leave her post as UN Ambassador. NPR reported at the time of her resignation, “She did not say what she will do next, except that it will be in the private sector.”  Since Haley’s departure she has not taken a position with any private firm, but instead has positioned herself for a presidential run.  Her finances are improving as she commands $200,000 for speaking engagements.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Free College and Student Loan Forgiveness

A presidential election approaches and the giveaway bidding keeps rising.   The two big ticket bids are “free college education” and “forgiveness of student loan debt.”   These two issues are symptoms of a problem.  They are not the problem.  Too often in our culture we focus on symptoms and politicians pander with supposed solutions.  That is why many problems are never solved.  The real problem is a higher education system that is far too costly and ineffective in delivering quality outcomes efficiently.

Students and their parents sense that something is out of joint.   Increasingly they are questioning the value proposition of the four-year college.  (Actually, only 39% of students graduate in 4 years and only about 60% by year six.)  The cost is too high.  The rigor of the experience is questionable as everything outside of academics seems a priority on campus with socialization atop the list.   The enhanced economic promise associated with the degree are diminishing.  And the debt burden incurred can be stifling.

Higher education costs have skyrocketed.  The quality of education has not improved in any way proportionate to the rise in cost.   Government programs to make higher education affordable have in fact had the opposite effect – fueling rising costs.   Much of the burden of that cost is placed on the shoulders of those ill prepared to complete college and ill prepared to pay back the debt burden.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Hometown Nostalgia

The recent creation of a Facebook Group for people from my hometown "This was Randolph" quickly drew nearly 5,000 members.  Thousands of posts, comments and reactions indicated life in Randolph, Massachusetts in the 1960s into the 1980s was overwhelmingly positive for children and teenagers.  No doubt young people in many small towns across the country in the same period shared that positive experience.

The purpose of the Facebook Group was to reminisce about experiences growing up in the town.  The creator insisted that members must have lived in Randolph, Massachusetts at some time.  Group members could submit a post on pretty much any topic except politics.  Postings quickly poured in and thousands of reactions and comments followed.  Additional conversations were sparked and in many cases friendships that had faded with time were renewed.  Reading through the posts and comments an abundance of fond recollections and appreciation for the environment, institutions, and people of my hometown flowed readily.
In a 1993 Washington Post Sunday Magazine feature  about Rod Langway, an NHL Hall of Fame hockey player from Randolph, the author described Randolph as a “tough blue-collar community south of Boston.”  I was living in Washington, D.C. at that time. Reading the article I was taken aback by that description of my hometown. 

When thousands began migrating from Boston to the fast-growing town in the 1950s it was considered a country backwater.  It quickly became a blue-collar working-class town in the 1950s and 60s, but it never seemed “tough” in a pejorative way.   It was a place of large families and bursting schools where children played outdoors with little or no supervision.   It wasn’t perfect, and there were some that suffered in isolation and abuse, but the reflections on the Facebook Group surely show it was in general a wonderful place to grow up.

Reading the posts within the group, one could not help but think how much has changed - not just in my hometown, but in many small towns across the country.

Who are these 5000 people in the Facebook Group?

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Census Controversy and Gerrymandering before the Supreme Court - Part 2: Gerrymandering

There are two interesting and very important questions before the Supreme Court this term relating to congressional representation.   One case is about apportionment – the way in which the federal government allocates the 435 Congressional Districts to the states.  The other is about redistricting – the way in which districts are drawn within and by states.  As they are both complex issues this will be a two series blog, Part 1: Apportionment and Part 2: Gerrymandering.   Apportionment is the process of allocating congressional districts after the decennial census.  Gerrymandering is the manipulation of congressional districts within state boundaries for political advantage.

These are complex issues for the Supreme Court that float in a gray area between politics and clear-cut law.  The issues may seem arcane to many, but they are of major consequence for the republic relating to representation, power, and resource allocation.  Both issues are worthy of considerable citizen attention.


In Part 1: Apportionment, the Constitutional requirement was described to conduct a census every ten years from which the 435 Congressional Districts are reapportioned to the states.  A further mandate that each of those districts have roughly the same numbers represented was also established.   Beyond those broad goal posts the responsibility for creating the districts within states is left almost entirely to the states themselves.

Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution says, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature.”  It further provides a regulating authority stating, “the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations.”

Placing the state legislatures in charge of creating districts within their borders makes the process a political one.  As in all political activities advantage is sought by competing interested parties.  An environment ripe for abuse is created. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Trump exonerated - stop the resistance! It's futile

To win the 2020 presidential election and retain control of the House of Representatives the Democratic Party must stop the endless acrimony over Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential election loss and move on to offering solutions to real problems.  If not, it will lose the 2020 presidential election and the House of Representatives. The nation is worn thin by the post 2016 rancor.  Further continuation of a strategy of “resistance” is harmful to the nation and likely counter to future Democratic electoral success.

On May 17, 2017 Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller in an “Appointment of Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters.”  Thirty-four indictments of individuals and three companies resulted.  Thirteen Russians and two companies were indicted for social media trolling and twelve Russian military officers were indicted for hacking the Democratic National Committee Email servers.  The remaining indictments and convictions were for peripheral violations of the law such as lying to the FBI or Congress or long-past crimes unrelated to the election. 

On March 24, 2019 Attorney General William Barr provided the major findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report titled:  “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.”  Barr writes, “the Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US. presidential election.”  Further, the Attorney General found that, “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

In 2017 a special counsel was demanded.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself as demanded. Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein provided the Special Counsel with an extremely broad authority and scope.   Mr. Mueller was unhindered by the White House or the Department of Justice in his investigation.   Everything possible was done to accommodate those that demanded a full, fair and thorough investigation. 

Immediately following the release of the Attorney General’s top-level summary Representative Maxine Waters said, “this is not the end of anything!”   The Democratic Party follows her lead at its peril.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Census Controversy and Gerrymandering before the Supreme Court - Part 1: Apportionment

There are two interesting and very important questions before the Supreme Court this term relating to congressional representation.   One case is about apportionment – the way in which the federal government allocates the 435 Congressional Districts to the states.  The other is about redistricting – the way in which districts are drawn within and by states.  As they are both complex issues this will be a two series blog, Part 1: Apportionment and Part 2: Gerrymandering.   Apportionment is the process of allocating congressional districts after the decennial census.  Gerrymandering is the manipulation of congressional districts within state boundaries for political advantage.

These are complex issues for the Supreme Court that float in a gray area between politics and clear-cut law.  The issues may seem arcane to many, but they are of major consequence for the republic relating to representation, power, and resource allocation.  Both issues are worthy of considerable citizen attention.


Every ten years the United States Census Bureau conducts the census in accordance with Article 1 Section 2 of the United States Constitution.  The Constitution originally provided for the maximum amount of people in a district (30 thousand) at the start of the republic. However, as the number of states increased, and the population grew, it became impractical to keep expanding the number of districts or to restrict the number in each district to thirty thousand.

The Apportionment Act of 1911 established that there shall be 435 congressional districts in the House of Representatives to represent the interests of the citizens.   The Senate represents states. Each state is allotted two senators by Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution (50 states x 2 senators = 100 senators).  

The 535 members of the Senate and House of Representatives together make up the bicameral legislature that together are called the United States Congress.   Additionally, the District of Columbia is allocated three Electors through the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution.  Total electors therefore are 538 resulting in the requirement that a presidential candidate obtain over half, or 270 electors, to win a presidential election.