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California High School to Teach Autonomous Vehicle Repair

A school district in California is partnering with the Contra Costa County Transportation Authority and autonomous electric shuttle maker Local Motors to provide technical education related to autonomous vehicles.

Small autonomous electric shuttles produced by Local Motors will be be included in an expanded advanced auto shop program in Pittsburg, Calif.
Young people have often been early adopters of technology. And this fact could make them the best people to repair it. A high school in the Bay Area in California will partner with a maker of autonomous vehicle technology to begin a maintenance and repair program with the school’s shop class.

The Pittsburg Unified School District has formed a partnership with the Contra Costa County Transportation Authority (CCTA) and Local Motors, a maker of small autonomous electric shuttles, to provide technical education related to AVs. Pittsburg High School will be the first K-12 school in the state to provide this level of instruction.

“Autonomous vehicles are on the very cutting edge of the automotive industry,” said Sherene Sasser, workforce liaison for the Pittsburg Unified School District, adding, “very soon technicians and mechanics who have experience in autonomous technologies will be in high demand.”

Looking to tomorrow’s workers for tomorrow’s jobs and skill sets is a logical move, said Local Motors officials.

“Consumer demand for both autonomous and electric vehicles is expected to skyrocket – creating multi-billion and trillion-dollar industries within the next five to ten years. To handle such growth, these industries need highly skilled technicians with experience producing, updating and maintaining vehicle technology,” said Vikrant Aggarwal, president of Local Motors. “It’s imperative that students have access to the training and on-hands experience today for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Local Motors will make its Olli autonomous shuttles available for the high school’s new advanced auto shop program as a laboratory for instruction and research into both autonomous technologies as well as electric vehicle insight. Local Motors will make its technicians available to students and teachers. The program will launch this fall.

Currently, about 160 students are enrolled in either the more basic auto repair coursework, or “Advanced Auto,” with its focus on electric vehicles and some of the more advanced automotive systems.

“We have had a couple of opportunities to learn about autonomous technologies, but only briefly,” said Sasser.

Expanded coursework in the 2020-21 school year will allow the students to delve deeper into the workings of not only AVs, but EVs as well. The school will have access to an electric car kit they will break down and reassemble.

“In addition, we are receiving two hybrid cars through the Bureau of Automotive Repair’s Cars for Schools program,” said Sasser, adding that these will arrive in the coming weeks.

Local Motors has been using the GoMentum Station, operated by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, as a basecamp for testing, while also deploying the vehicles into real-world applications such as a shared AV shuttle program at Sacramento State University last year. “CCTA has long been a vanguard to test Shared Autonomous Vehicles (SAVs), as well as secure government permission to allow SAVs on public roads. What we don’t have is a trained workforce to support this emerging industry sector,” said CCTA Executive Director Randell Iwasaki, in a statement.

Local Motors officials say the company is open to additional partnerships with schools or community colleges to further AV understanding and repair knowledge. 

“We’ve long supported educational and research-driven initiatives by either providing on-hands Olli experience or inviting students to join us for the day at our micro-factories to learn about our manufacturing,” said Aggarwal.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.

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