The future of autonomous vehicle engineering now starts in middle school

Artificial intelligence (AI) applications are pervasive in nearly all aspects of the mobility engineering, from vehicle design, manufacturing, operations, and maintenance. To prepare the next generation of the workforce, educators are beginning to incorporate AI courses into curriculum starting as early as middle school. Teachers at David E. Williams Middle School in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania have developed the United States first middle school-level AI program.

The AI program officially launched in October 2018. To date, hundreds of classes have already been taught to approximately 500 students in four specific areas of study – AI ethics, AI autonomous robotics, AI computer science, and AI music – through units embedded in quarter, semester, and year-long media arts, music, computer science, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes.

During a recent Artificial Intelligence Grand Showcase at David E. Williams Middle School, nearly 100 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students demonstrated AI projects they had been working on over the course of the year, including machine vision in personal assistance and mobility with Anki’s Cozmo robots using the Calypso robot intelligence framework developed by researchers at Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Mellon University.

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Students also presented logic- and ethics-based arguments concerning autonomous vehicles and emergency breaking situations with passengers and pedestrians. The ethics coursework was implemented with the help from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who were already in the process of creating AI ethics courses for higher education institutions when they were contacted by Montour School District’s Director of Academic Achievement and District Innovation, Dr. Justin Aglio.

Aglio, who proposed the idea of AI curriculum to the school, has developed partnerships with several other institutions and companies including Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Learning, Google, Stanford University’s AI4ALL, Visionary Machines LLC, Aethon, Ascender, SAE International, Amper Music, and Promethean.

Montour teachers are also participating as learners themselves, working alongside program partners to develop the “living” curriculum, such as educators Bill Black, who assisted in the organization of the regional World Artificial Intelligence Competition for Youth held at Montour School District.

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With analysts predicting that 10 years from now, 40 percent of jobs will be displaced or affected by AI, Aglio and his team have been focusing on preparing students for the future job market – one that will need STEM-literacy.

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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.
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