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PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - Speakers at the conference (from left to right): Brian Ostrovsky, Founder, Babybit Technologies, Jeremy Myrland, Product Marketing Manager, Jama Software, Zach Henkin, Program Director, Drive Oregon, Dr. John Suh, Executive Director, Hyundai Ventures, Doug Newcomb, President and Cofounder, C3 Group, Wilfred Robert Pinfold, CEO, urban.systems.inc, Jennifer Dill, Director, PSU Transportation and Research Education Center (TREC), Ryan Hilton, Quid, Dorothy Mitchell, Motivate. Self-driving cars were the topic of discussion last week, as leaders from the technology, academic and non-profit sectors gathered in Portland for the first PDXchange conference, organized by the C3 Group.


“The C3 Group brings together thought leaders from automotive, technology, research, policy and media to explore opportunities, challenges and intersections in the connected mobility space,” C3 group President Doug Newcomb said.

The event was structured as a series of short presentations from experts in mobility, automation and connectivity, followed by open discussions with attendees. While the general tone was positive, some speakers expressed concern over social, technical and ethical challenges posed by increased automation, especially in the area of self-driving cars.

“It’s important for those of us looking at technology to understand not only the positive but also the negative implications,” said Dr. John Suh, Executive Director of Hyundai Ventures.

Suh focused on the potential for automation to further replace human workers in middle-class jobs, including commercial truck drivers. There are approximately 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the United States, according to estimates by the American Trucking Association. 

“Twenty-five to 30 percent of the cost of trucking is paying the driver, so there’s economic pressure to eliminate the driver. But truck driving is a solid middle-class job, so there’s the potential to further erode the middle class. If we decide to remove those jobs through automation, my question is how good have we been at retraining people?” he said.

Other speakers focused on the benefits of an increased variety of transportation options including multi-modal systems that provide a mix of private vehicles, shared vehicles including bicycles, public transit and walkable communities.

Dr. Jennifer Dill, Director of the Transportation and Research Education Center at Portland State University spoke on the cultural aspects and challenges of mobility and health.

“Lack of physical activity kills. Every year, about 191,000 people die because of lack of physical activity, and some other causes like obesity and high blood pressure are also tied to a lack of physical activity. Walking and biking for transportation can definitely improve your health,” Dill said.

Throughout the conference, the discussion repeatedly came back to convenience, and the desire to integrate many transportation options such as ride-sharing, available short-term vehicle rentals and public transit schedules into a single interface available on a smart phone.

Wilfred Pinfold, CEO of urban.systems.inc, explained how a standard interface for mobility services can make varied transportation options more convenient and affordable.

“People are looking for ways to save on transit. The infrastructure is already there, but we can lighten the burden of how that infrastructure works,” Pinfold said. “We’ve set up a lab to explore some of those ideas about how we could move towards more connected applications.”

The conference was held in the Pearl District at the Jaguar Land Rover Open Software Technology Center, which hosted the event.

“In many ways, Portland is an ideal place to have conversations around connected mobility, given the area’s leadership in alternative energy, e-mobility, technology, health care and research,” Newcomb said. “We feel that by driving the conversation and engagement on topics related to connected mobility — whether cybersecurity, self-driving cars or how the technology will impact health and wellness — will help all stakeholders come together to more quickly realize its benefits, and hopefully avoid potential roadblocks.”

The next events organized by the C3 group take place in New York on June 22 and in San Francisco on October 20 of this year. The next event in Portland is not yet scheduled, but Newcomb said, “Given the response and success of our inaugural PDXchange event we definitely plan to do a follow-up.”

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