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Gov 1430

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Lab 4. Making Decisions about Self-Driving Cars


A goal of this lab is to help you learn how to write briefing documents about technology-society clashes. In the future, you may be called upon to provide an opinion for your employer or client involving a new technology. If so, you will want to conduct a risk assessment or threat analysis based on issue spotting and then report your results in a briefing document.

Suggested Readings


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has brought the world many innovative new technologies, such as the Internet and GPS navigation systems. In 2002, DARPA announced its Grand Challenge for a drive-less car to cross the Mojave Dessert region of the United States in 2004. They funded development efforts and held challenges for several years. Seven teams successfully drove cars around a racetrack prior to 2002. None of the vehicles made it across the dessert successfully in 2002, but one team from Carnegie Mellon made it the furtherest. In 2005, Stanford won the challenge.

Over the years, the technology evolved into commercial use as self-parking cars. Last week, more than 10 years after the DARPA challenges, the car company Tesla, announced last week that it will release software updates in many of its car for them to drive autonomously. If so, this will be the first release of cars driving themselves in the commercial marketplace.

History fortells that many of you will be in decision-making positions. Professor Sweeney wonders how you might have advised your employers or clients if you worked with different stake-holders in the decision-making processes related to self-driving cars and society.

Activity. Group Activity

Divide into groups of up to 5 people. Become part of a group of people where most of the people in the group are people with whom you have not yet worked. Choose a group leader who will be responsible for writing your briefing document and leading the presentation next week. The group leader must be a person that has not yet been a group leader.

Meet stakeholders involved in the decision-making of self-driving cards in different time frames.

Timeframe: Vision and Development (Grand Challenges)

DARPA is funding the Grand Challenge to ignite research on self-driving cars.

Carnegie Mellon (CMU) team that participated in the Grand Challenge.

Stanford team that participated in the Grand Challenge.

Hummer, an auto manufacturer for the government.

Timeframe: Commercialization and Marketplace

Tesla, an innovative auto manufacturer providing self-driving cars.

Google, early and ongoing interest in self-driving cars.

Ford, a traditional auto manufacturer interested in self-parking cars.

General Motors (GM), a traditional auto manufacturer interested in super cruse-control cars.

Toyota, a traditional auto manufacturer interested in crash-avoidance cars.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

GEICO, an auto insurance company.

Important. By the end of the session today, login to the Course Wiki and identify your group as being one of the groups listed above for Lab 4. The names are DARPA, CMU, Stanford, Hummer, Tesla, Google, Ford, GM, Toyota, NTSB, IIHS, and GEICO. Select one of these as the name for your group and place your group information there. Identify your group members and the group leader.

Assume you have a job advising the top person in your organization. They hired you, in part,because you took this course. Your boss is being summoned to a Congressional Senate hearing about self-driving cars. Your boss turns to you and asks, "what should be our position?" Your job is to decide what the position of your organization should be.

You should start by doing issue spotting. What are the most likely issue to occur that would have the most dramatic impact? Then, organize the issues into a risk assessment or threat analysis. The primary outcome is to identify the top one to three issues that form your position. Think about an experiment or analysis that would further support your position.

Paper and Panel Discussion (Due Tuesday)

Submit a short paper (3-5 pages) from your group that is your briefing document. Be sure to include the names of all group members on the paper. Submit your paper to the Wiki by Wednesday.

Paper and Presentation (Due Tuesday)

On Tuesday, your group, along with 2 other groups, will be in a panel discussion before a mock Senate Committee to discuss the issues. The Senate Committee is hosting a hearing to discuss public safety and market conditions related to self-driving cars. Should there be a new law to forbid or enable self-driving cars, is one of the questions being considered. You do not prepare any slides for the Senate hearing. Instead, all the members of your group will sit at tables, facing other groups. Each group will give a one minute opening statement. Then, the Senate (played by the other members of the class) will begin asking questions. Your group members should be prepared to respond to the questions from the Senate and from the other groups.

Usually in this course, you write a scientific paper. This time, you will write a briefing document. In the first paragraph, state your position and describe the issue in terms of your position. Start the document with a clear statement in the first paragraph. Assume the person has little time to read and may just take the first paragraph and make a public statement based on it.

If asked questions, your boss will then look further into the document for support. So make sure the next section provides details to support the position in order of importance. Assume your boss is just looking for the answer to a question or talking points. Your boos is not reading to learn about a topic, just what to say or do. Write all your paragraphs to instruct the person being briefed on what to do, to say, and to support. This is not an essay, so do not express pros and cons. Instead, assert all the reasons why your position is the correct one and the most important.

The next section has specific details that form the basis of the position, which will include an experiment that could be conducted to further substantiate the position. The “experiment” is like the abstract and methods you have done in the earlier assignments.

Your paper ends with the talking points for your boss to address when others take an opposing position.

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