Self-Driven: How One D.C. High School Student Sought A Ford Mentor to Explore AVs

Public acceptance of self-driving vehicles is key for a service to be successful. Many people continue to be wary of the technology or lack a clear understanding of the vehicles’ capabilities. To launch a successful self-driving vehicle business, Ford understands that it will have to do its part to help educate consumers to ensure they trust and are comfortable with the technology.

In some cases, the curious minds make their way to Ford all on their own. That’s how Seth Sabar, a senior at the School Without Walls High School in Washington, D.C., entered the world of self-driving cars. Over the last year, Seth has been mentored by Brittany Pauley, Ford’s Washington D.C. Autonomous Vehicle Market Manager. She has helped steer him through a year-long class project related to self-driving cars – one that culminated with Seth drafting his very own version of a federal bill that regulates the deployment of self-driving cars.

@FordOnline recently had the chance to speak with Seth about his experience, what he’s learned, and what he thinks should come next for self-driving cars and for himself. Here’s what he had to say:

What sparked your interest in self-driving vehicles?

As a senior at School Without Walls High School, everyone is required to take on a year-long project focusing on solving a real-world problem. While brainstorming the seemingly countless problems facing the world, car accidents was top of mind for me. Almost everyone has either experienced a car accident or knows someone who has been in one. My grandmother broke her arm in a crash and my mom had a classmate in high school who was killed by a drunk driver.

So how can we change this? What is the solution to prevent crashes from happening when most are caused by human error? As I did more research on the topic, it became clear that autonomous vehicles were the front-runner. I was skeptical about the technology at first. But, this was something I wanted to dive deeper into as part of my senior project.

Seth Sabar

How did you get in touch with your Ford mentor, Brittany Pauley?

I reached out to the D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development because I wanted to connect with someone in the self-driving vehicle sector – that’s how I met Brittany. She became my mentor and advisor throughout the year for my various projects, but also educated me on the world of self-driving vehicles and the work Ford is doing in my hometown.

What concerns did you have about self-driving vehicles – and did those views change during the course of your senior project?

One of the biggest criticisms of autonomous vehicles I heard from classmates was: What if the technology fails? This was one of my biggest concerns, too.

With the help of the Ford Autonomous Vehicless LLC team, I educated myself on the technology, learned how it is being built to operate safer than a human driver and came to understand that experts are thinking about various scenarios that could happen if you are in a vehicle without a safety operator – which makes me trust this technology even more. Ultimately, knowing Ford is also collaborating closely with the District or City of Washington, D.C. on how this technology will be rolled out meant something to me. In fact, the collaboration with the local government helped build my confidence.

Why did you decide to draft a federal bill on AV legislation for your project?

In the past, legislation has mandated seatbelts and airbags—technologies that have been proven to make cars safer. I thought to myself: “Autonomous technology is another safety mechanism, so why can’t we pass legislation on it too?” While I know there is work being done at both the federal and local level, I wanted to shed light on some ideas I think are important, including creating a new sub-agency in the DOT that solely works on autonomous vehicles. My goal is to have my ideas considered and incorporated into potential bills that are likely being worked on already.

What do you think needs to be done to ensure self-driving vehicles are successful?

We have to educate people on what they are capable of and how well they are being designed. I had the opportunity to argue in favor of this technology to my fellow classmates and therefore believe continuous education is key to earning consumer trust – this could include town halls in the community and even classes where students can learn about how technology is becoming intertwined with their lives. Most importantly, communities need to be reassured that jobs will be created, not taken away.

Are you interested in a career involving self-driving vehicles?

I plan to study mathematics in college and it’s exciting to know how integral math is in the development of self-driving technology. As I look ahead, I am excited to explore how I can use math to tackle some of the challenges facing autonomous vehicles and maybe even pursue a job in the field. Thank you to the Ford AV LLC team and Brittany for taking the time to educate me on this incredible work being done to change the future of transportation.

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To read more about Seth’s mentorship experience, check out the latest blog post on Self-Driven.

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