Julia Gillard’s Sexism Advice: BBC Dialogues with Australia’s 27th PM

Julia Gillard’s Sexism Advice: BBC Dialogues with Australia’s 27th PM

What can Uber and Fox News do to change their hostile work environment for women? And how can organizations create a productive atmosphere where men and women thrive? Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues sat down with Julia Gillard, the 27th Prime Minister of Australia to get her insights. Gillard got the world’s attention after making an impassioned speech to parliament, detailing the sexual harassment she endured as prime minister. Her Misogyny Speech has empowered many women and a provided a wakeup call for “unenlightened” men.

“I will not be lectured on sexism and misogyny by this man…I was personally offended by the leader of the opposition cat-calling: ‘if the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest women of herself ‘ and when he went outside the front of parliament and stood next to a sign that said ‘Ditch the witch’…(and) a sign that described me as ‘A man’s bitch’, I was offended by sexism, misogyny every day from this leader.” Julia Gillard, 27th Prime Minister of Australia

The BBC World Service program, Business Matters aired my interview with Julia Gillard last week, and we had a lively discussion about the steps companies and organizations can take to tackle sexism. This topic is especially timely as news broke this week that Bill O’Reilly has been fired from Fox News due to a sexual harassment scandal. Is the tide finally turning, thanks to tech augmented consumer pressure?

“Company reputation and consumer pressure is actually putting the spotlight on businesses to change behavior, and women can work with that to put a spotlight on work practices in their business,” Julia Gillard.

Did Julia Gillard anticipate Bill O”Reilly being fired?

Listen on the BBC Podcast (@26:40) or to the short clip below:

 

Here are highlights from our conversation:

I began by asking her if there’s anything she’d add to her speech in today’s work environment…

Julia Gillard: It was coming from a place of frustration and mounting anger about the way in which gender has intersected with my prime ministership and some of the many sexist jibes and treatment I had to put up with. For many women, it’s come to represent something that answers their own frustrations. A lot of women come up to me and say: “this happened to me at work. I wake up at 3 in the morning and really wish I’d said X, Y and Z; and then I’ve watched your speech and it’s given me some heart that I really should call out sexism when I see it.”

Alison van Diggelen: Here in Silicon Valley, women in tech are in a minority. In some instances they’re facing hostile environments at work. Do you have any specific advice for them?

Julia Gillard: What’s interesting about the Silicon Valley environment is: company reputation and consumer pressure is actually putting the spotlight on businesses to change behavior, and women can work with that to put a spotlight on work practices in their business; and put a spotlight more generally on that fact that not enough women study and come through the STEM stream… We do want to be encouraging more girls to go into the sciences, engineering, into coding, computer science and new technology because that’s where so much of the future is going to lie.

Alison van Diggelen: Uber has been accused of having a hostile environment for women. If you were on the board of Uber, your advice to them?

Julia Gillard: I’d give the same advice to any company, whether it already had a public problem or not. First look at hiring practices and see whether there’s any gender bias, even unconscious…Look at promotion practices, it could be managers valuing time sitting at the desk rather than results, which would count against women who also have family responsibilities. I’d be setting policies, practices, cultural norms about treating everyone with respect. No practices of going on boys’ nights out where women are excluded.

There’s a range of things you can do from structural biases, actual policies to cultural influences. You’ve got to be thoughtful at every level and make it easy for women to say something’s wrong here, all sorts of ways of raising a complaint, including putting in complaints with anonymity, so women can get a spotlight on issues without feeling they themselves are at risk.

Roger Hearing: Asit Biswas (in Singapore), in your experience, in the areas of government and academia, do you feel a lot of progress has been made?

Prof Asit Biswas: There has been some progress, but it’s not enough. In academia, the number of university presidents who are women, I can count on two hands…there’s a great deal of glass ceiling…In India, I was surprised to see the culture has deteriorated: there’s more harassment, not much being done about it.

Bill O'Reilly fired for sexual harassment

Alison van Diggelen: I do want to go back to Julia Gillard’s point about consumer pressure. Boycott movements* (and demonstrations) are happening against Fox (News) because of accusations of sexual harassment…

Roger Hearing: We should explain, Bill O’Reilly…There have been allegations against him and it’s emerged that money has been paid to those people, though he says the allegations have no merit.

Alison van Diggelen: Exactly. There are boycott movements shining a light on sexism and bad behaviors.   Companies can’t get away with it like they used to. Tech is playing a role in exposing these bad behaviors and a lot of companies are aware of it and are trying to close the income gap and improve  the retention rates of women, and making sure that all men become enlightened men and treat women with the respect that they deserve.

*Mercedes-Benz – one of the first major sponsors to drop Bill O’Reilly – said in a statement: “The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now.”

This interview took place in the green room of The Flint Center in Cupertino. Big thanks to Dick Henning, founder of the Foothill College Celebrity Forum Series for the invitation backstage.

App to End Homelessness? BBC Report: Tech Fix for Down & Outs in Silicon Valley

App to End Homelessness? BBC Report: Tech Fix for Down & Outs in Silicon Valley

Imagine if you could help end homelessness with the click of a button. There’s an app for that! In Silicon Valley, despite the vast affluence and many tech millionaires, homelessness is a huge problem. With average home prices close to a $1 million and tiny flats renting for well over $1,000, making ends meet can be challenging; and for some people, just finding a roof over their heads is mission impossible.

Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues met one woman whose homeless brother inspired her to change all that.

For those who are homeless and poverty stricken, it’s like having a life coach, a service provider and a trainer in the palm of their hands. There’s really something to teaching to fish…rather than giving fish…helping them be self sufficient rather than temporary handouts… We’re here trying to help in other ways that are more sustainable and that lead to a permanent resolution of the problem.Karen Addato, Founder of Hi Tech Rover and ROVA app. 

Here’s my BBC World Service report. It aired April 4th on the BBC’s World Tech program, Click. Listen @15:40 for Host, Gareth Mitchell’s introduction on the April 4th BBC Podcast or to this short clip:

 

Alison van Diggelen: I’m here on the Hi Tech Rover, an RV (large camper van) that brings both the internet and a safety net to homeless people all over San Jose. Karen Addato (founder of the Hi Tech Rover and the ROVA app) and her volunteers offer an opportunity for homeless people to get off the streets and reboot their lives. They offer Internet training, help with online job applications, housing search, and even access to detox services.

Karen, where are we going right now?

Karen Addato: We’re in downtown San Jose, the Capital of Silicon Valley and we’re going to a couple of encampments under bridges, right here in the heart of town. One of them is on Woz Way…

Alison van Diggelen: Woz as in Steve Wozniak, cofounder of Apple and generous philanthropist here in Silicon Valley. Karen Addato is a vivacious single mom, a mortgage broker and executive director of the nonprofit: High Tech Rover. She used $7,000 of her savings to create this Rover Outreach Vehicle App prototype, ROVA for short.

Karen Addato: For those who are homeless and poverty stricken, it’s like having a life coach, a service provider and a trainer in the palm of their hands… when we’re not here helping them, they can stay on a pathway focused on upward mobility. They can get on to ROVA and press one button.. “I am seeking help.” Up comes a list of resources available for that gender and age group.  We have a geo-tracker right here, so you can find out where they are…This tool will also help government officials, donors, and service providers figure out what’s needed and what’s not.

ROVA app for homeless by Karen Addato, Photo by Alison van DiggelenAlison van Diggelen: Connecting homeless people with jobs, training opportunities and relocation information are a key for Addato. Her brother Stevie was homeless in Boston, and she believes that those who supported his panhandling simply enabled his alcoholism and homelessness. Instead, she’s serious about connecting people to local services, and getting people off the streets for good.

Karen Addato: I’ve learned a lot in my time in the trenches working with this population…I’ve learned a lot through the life and tragic death of my brother…There’s really something to teaching to fish…rather than giving fish…helping them be self sufficient rather than temporary handouts… that in some ways is part of the problem. We’re here trying to help in other ways that are more sustainable and that lead to a permanent resolution of the problem.

Alison van Diggelen: The High Tech Rover – a huge camper van – is kitted out with desks and laptops. Addato and her volunteers take it to homeless camps around Silicon Valley.

Atmos: Sound of walking to homeless camp…traffic…

Alison van Diggelen: We make our way over rough ground to the confluence of Highways 280 and 87. Addato grabs her pepper spray, just in case. We find a half dozen scruffy tents stretched out along a concrete embankment. Below us: the Guadalupe River. Above us, although it’s midday, there’s a constant drone of heavy traffic.

Jason, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, tells me he’s been homeless for 2 years. He’s 19 and working two jobs, earning between 11 and 17 dollars an hour…

Alison van Diggelen: You can’t get a decent roof over head with that?

Jason: Not in Silicon Valley, it’s too expensive…one bed’s like $1300, it’s crazy out here. Us teenagers, we need help. Not all of us want to be here forever.

Alison van Diggelen: Every morning, Jason has to find a place to shower and clean up for his service jobs. We tell him about Karen’s app. Would that be a useful tool?

Jason: That’s actually a very brilliant idea, because a lot of us actually have phones… I’ve actually wanted something like that. Keep helping!

Alison van Diggelen: I ask another young man, what would help him?

Karen Addato driving the Hi Tech RoverCharlie: San Jose needs to lower how much it costs to buy a house, their rents…you need to live with like three people, making at least $20 an hour to end up being able to have your own place in San Jose.

Alison van Diggelen: The ROVA app includes a database of over 700 low-income housing facilities in the county. Both young men plan to relocate out of state when they can afford it.

Like many in Silicon Valley, Addato dreams big and is seeking sponsorship from the tech community to launch her app, and create a whole fleet of High-Tech Rovers across the nation. She recently pitched her dream at the Apple campus and remains hopeful. The wider tech community is already tackling homeless via brainstorming hackathons; leveraging data-driven solutions and social media to spotlight community challenges. In Australia, an app called “Ask Izzy” already offers similar services to ROVA.

Homeless in Silicon Valley, Woz Way

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BBC Report: Silicon Valley Protests Trump Presidency

BBC Report: Silicon Valley Protests Trump Presidency

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

It’s day four of the Donald Trump presidency and he’s already infuriated women’s rights campaigners, the environmental movement and free trade advocates by signing controversial executive orders. Tech mastermind, Steven Levy put it best in his latest tech report: God help us all.

Millions around the world took to the streets within hours of Trump’s inauguration, in anticipation of these actions and more to come. The San Jose Women’s March took place here in Silicon Valley on Saturday, and in my twenty years in the South Bay, I’ve never witnessed such an outpouring of alarm, dismay and rage. One 70-year old educator I interviewed said that this was the first time in her life, she’s ever felt the need to stand up and take to the streets: not for women’s rights, not for civil rights, but to protest Trump’s presidency. And she was fired up. Today, my report aired on the BBC World Service.

One protester had this message for Silicon Valley tech leaders:

“Lead with faith, lead with truth, and lead with a kind of human dignity that is absent in a lot of our daily conversations…They gotta get rid of the fake news, people are being led down a kind of primrose path, thinking that by being angry and violent they’re going to create a better world for the future…that’s not the path, the truth, the reality that everyone can see here today,” Patrick Adams, science teacher at Bellarmine College Preparatory School in San Jose 

Listen to my report and the discussion at the BBC World Service (from 2:40 in the podcast)

Gareth Mitchell: The President Elect became President on Friday….the crowds were back on the streets on Saturday, this time in protest at the new administration.  The marches around the world were led by women, but in Silicon Valley, the tech people, male and female were venting their concerns too, along with scientists, and entrepreneurs, all of them worried by Trump’s stance on trade, innovation, science and the climate. It comes in an era of disquiet about Facebook and fake news, of post truth and cyber threats. To gauge the sentiment, our reporter in Silicon Valley, Alison van Diggelen, was at one of the marches.

Alison van Diggelen: I’m here at the San Jose Women’s March in the center of Silicon Valley and the women are out in force…

Words Matter Trump Protest Photo by Alison van Diggelen

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Yogacharya O’Brian (reading her poem, “Forward Women”): Not to the back of the line, because Delores walked in front; not to be held down, not even by gravity because Sally soared in space.

Alison: That was Yogacharya O’Brian, founder of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment and one of the rally’s powerful speakers.

Alison van Diggelen: Silicon Valley took to the streets in record numbers on Saturday to protest the country’s new president. Donald Trump’s proposed tax cuts and infrastructure investment could benefit the tech community; the U.S. economy and many of those marching in Silicon Valley. As could his plans to repatriate millions of dollars of tech companies’ overseas profits. Last month Trump even hosted a cordial summit with some top tech leaders. Despite all this, many in this community are fearful of what his presidency might mean for innovation, transparency, multiculturalism, and social progress.

Nick Shackleford: I’m here because of Trump’s election…he is bringing America back in time instead of leading us forward. As a nation we need to go forward and not backwards.

Alison van Diggelen: Here in the world tech center of innovation, what do you expect from this community of innovators?

Nick Shackleford: Like you said, we are innovators and I think we’re going to continue to innovate and lead the country – and sometimes the world – in the innovations that are being developed here in the Silicon Valley. And we have a lot of millionaires and billionaires who are liberal, believe in the cause and are true Californians and they will continue their fight, be it with their money, and their power or just lending their voice to causes that are important to our nation.

Alison van Diggelen: What would you say to Mark Zuckerberg and people like him with power?

Nick Shackleford: I think Mark Zuckerberg did not to enough to stop the fake news. I think he cared more about (getting it re-shared and) his personal stake in his company…and he can’t convince me otherwise. He’s to blame for a lot of the fake media.

Alison van Diggelen: What would you have him do?

Love your mother Trump Protest photo by Alison van Diggelen

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Nick Shackleford: I’ve reported about 100 things in the last six months and nothing has been in violation of their policy, but I’ve seen other people get the same picture and be sent to Facebook jail for it. So he’s not consistent, there needs to be more transparency on this fake news fight.

Patrick Adams: They gotta get rid of the fake news, people are being led down a kind of primrose path thinking that by being angry and violent they’re going to create a better world for the future…that’s not the path, the truth, the reality that everyone can see here today.

Alison van Diggelen: Patrick Adams was one of many men who came out to support the women’s march. Like many protesters who couldn’t keep quiet, he was energized by the proliferation of fake news, and Trump’s use of “alternative facts” which continues this week in the heated dispute over his inauguration numbers. Adams had a message for Silicon Valley’s tech leaders….

Patrick Adams: Lead with faith, lead with truth, and lead with a kind of human dignity that is absent in a lot of our daily conversations …Everywhere I go I see wonderful, amazing, beautiful people working together to make this future happen and I also see people who’re giving up…either to escape into an alternate world of the Internet or they want to pretend that this doesn’t affect them. But if affects everyone. Everyone is involved.

Yogacharya O’BrianWe do not wait for you to lead with sons and with daughters in hand, with husbands and with wives, lovers and friends by our side…we march!

Crowd chanting, cheering

[End of report]

Gareth Mitchell: What do you make of the comments you heard there, Bill Thomson?

Bill Thomson: It was fascinating to hear via Alison’s excellent report just how confused people are, and how uncertain they are; and how many different perspectives there are.  For me, as a member of the press, what we need to be doing is reporting effectively on what’s actually happening, not just reporting on an agenda set by politicians…So the limitations on women’s reproductive rights, the Keystone XL pipeline, the Dakota Access pipeline, the Transpacific Trade Partnership, the nomination of the Supreme Court justice, are all far more important than the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd.

There’s a real sense from Alison’s report that many people are confused because they don’t know what’s actually going on  and are trying to project on that. It’s the role of us in the press to cut through that and be much clearer about what’s actually happening and not get dragged into debates or agendas set by other people.

Read more stories about Donald Trump on Fresh Dialogues

 

BBC Report: NextEV Founder Shares Supercar Inspiration

BBC Report: NextEV Founder Shares Supercar Inspiration

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

The race to build the “ultimate” electric car is heating up. Every month, it seems another electric car company joins the fray to offer a car stylish enough to attract the Tesla crowd, and affordable enough to meet the growing demand from China, the United States and Europe.

NextEV stands out from the crowd for two reasons:

  1. It has solid backing, from a broad range of top venture capital and Internet companies like Sequoia and Tencent.

2. Its Silicon Valley R&D facility is led by Padmasree Warrior, “The Queen of the Electric Car” and she’s rapidly attracting top tech talent from the likes of Tesla and Apple.

Last month, I attended the grand opening of NextEV Silicon Valley and interviewed its founder, William Li. He shared his “Blue Sky” ambition (he means it literally) and how his grandfather inspired him to go from cattle herder to Internet multi-millionaire. It was the first interview he’d ever done in English. I filed this report for the BBC World Service’s Tech Program, Click.

Here’s a transcript from today’s program, with some great insights from host Gareth Mitchell and BBC contributor, Bill Thompson. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity:

BBC Host, Gareth Mitchell: One event that did happen was the recent launch of yet another electric vehicle outfit in California. This is the Silicon Valley division of a Chinese startup called NextEV. The champagne flowed and the ribbon was cut – the digital ribbon – but our reporter Alison van Diggelen was most interested in the economics of it all. You don’t need to be an investor to know just how risky these ventures are as the technology gradually matures. In California and China state funding and tax breaks are all part of getting these businesses off the ground. Alison tracked down NextEV founder, former cattle herder and now big time entrepreneur, William Li.

Alison van Diggelen: At NextEV’s Silicon Valley launch, William Li confirmed that on November 21st, NextEV will reveal its first supercar in London. The electric car is expected to offer a 0-60 acceleration in under three seconds. Its Formula E racing team has used a dual-motor setup on its race car, and it’s likely to be a feature of the supercar. (The top speed of the sleek two-seater will be over 180 mph, and its price is likely to be equally extravagant!)

NextEV is late join to the electric car race. So how does Li intend to challenge Tesla and the dozens of electric car companies popping up worldwide?

William Li: Tesla is a great company, I respect them. But Tesla was founded 2003. Lots changed. It’s a mobile internet era. We can do better to communicate with our users, give our users a much better holistic user experience.

He aims to do for the car what Apple did for the smart phone.

NextEV William Li on stage, photo by Alison van Diggelen, BBC WSHe learned a lot about user experience from Bit Auto, a popular web portal in China and his first business success. He’s now built a global startup – with facilities in Beijing, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, London and Munich. The global workforce is 2000.

In Silicon Valley, its 250-strong team of auto and software experts is growing rapidly. U.S. CEO Padmasree Warrior – former CTO at Cisco – is hiring experts in artificial intelligence, voice interaction and user interface from the likes of Tesla, Apple and Dropbox.  Warrior says they’re already working on affordable cars for China’s burgeoning demand.

Padmasree Warrior: In China, There’s a large shift happening … Environment issues are driving the government to look at electric vehicles as part of the solution… It’s healthier for the environment to drive an electric vehicle.

China is offering generous tax incentives to electric carmakers and consumers, driving a flood of companies into the space. NextEV recently signed an agreement with the Nanjing Municipal Government in China, to build a $500 million factory to build electric motors.

Similarly in Silicon Valley, a fleet of electric car companies has chosen to locate here, thanks to state tax incentives and the strong talent base. These include Tesla, Atieva, and Le Eco.

I spoke with California’s Director of Economic Development, Panorea Avdis. She explained how state policy is helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by focusing on the tech industry…

Panorea Avdis:  The goal is to have 1 million electric zero emission vehicles on the road by 2020.

(Today, California has about 300,000 electric cars, about half of the nation’s total.)

Alison: NextEV secured $10M in tax credits. Tell me why that’s cost effective for the people of California.

Panorea Avdis:  The return on investment…nearly 1000 jobs in the next 5 years, speaks for itself. California is leading the way, there’s no other state in the union that has this type of aggressive polices and it’s really inspiring this innovation in technology to come forward.

But making cars is notoriously hard. News broke this month that Apple is shelving its electric car plans to focus on self-driving software.

William Li knows it’s a tough road ahead. He gives his company just over a 50% chance of success.

As a boy, Li was a cattle herder in China. He’s come a long way and credits his grandfather’s wisdom:

William Li: [Speaks first in Mandarin ] The journey is more important than the result. So follow your heart….your original wish. Don’t worry about failure.

Like Tesla’s Elon Musk, Li is concerned about climate change and also the dense smog in Beijing and Shanghai. He blames polluting gas-guzzling cars.

NextEV’s brand in China is called “Way-Lye”

William Li: It means blue sky coming. That’s my original wish.

It’s an ambitious goal that could be a very long way off, especially in China’s congested and polluted cities.

Gareth Mitchell: That’s Alison van Diggelen reporting from Silicon Valley. So Bill Thompson – the journey is more important that the result?

Bill Thompson: The result is much more important than the journey here, because unless we get much cleaner public and personal transport, then we’re in big trouble. It’s really good to see another serious entrant in this market. It’s not sewn up yet by anyone. As we heard there about Tesla, there’s no first mover advantage because the technology is developing so quickly.

We know Padmasree Warrior’s reputation for delivering. She’s been on the show a few years back.  She was senior at Motorola, then went to Cisco. They’ve got really good people.

But the really interesting part of this is what happens in China. In China because  they have much more control over what people can do. The government can actually mandate a move to electric vehicles much more easily than they ever could in California and that gives a great market. So NextEV may be getting money and expertise over in Silicon Valley, but it’s what happens in China that’s really interesting.

Gareth Mitchell: I was interested in the economics side of the piece: the reliance partly on state funding to get these businesses going.

Bill Thompson: Occasionally state funding helps. You might have heard of this little thing called the Internet, kicked off with defense department funding from the US. It did pretty well by being able to rely on that funding for a critical period while it developed and then was able to be used by the private sector. One or two of these examples of it actually working…

BBC Report: Portland Startups Show Jetsons Future Closer Than You Think

BBC Report: Portland Startups Show Jetsons Future Closer Than You Think

Photo: Skyward CEO Jonathan Evans is convinced we’ll see “Jetsons” human-moving drones in 5 to 10 years

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Portland is better known for its environmental activism and the quirky comedy Portlandia than its tech; but that reputation is beginning to change. This month, I visited two Portland startups that are helping accelerate the future of transportation through innovative technology for drones and autonomous vehicles. Skyward, a drone operations startup, predicts that the Jetsons future of  flying cars is closer than we think. And in the fast-moving autonomous vehicle sector, Polysync’s software is being widely used to speed up the development of self-driving cars.
Here are some highlights from my BBC Report:
“It’s harder to move from A to B and when you look at the sky, you have a blank slate. Within 5-10 years you will see human-moving aero robots that will be moving programmatically in space. It’s a lot like the vision we have of the Jetsons. It’s going to be much more on-demand, much cheaper, empowering all of us to be able to access the sky for whatever we want to,” Jonathan Evans, CEO Skyward
“That’s the problem with autonomous driving: each one of these sensing modalities has their limitations: some don’t see well in rain, in fog, at dusk. The Mobile Eye, what Tesla was using to detect lanes, some objects…that does very poorly at dusk….when the sun is head on. You really want backup, systems that are all corroborating its perception of the environment. In my opinion, the more sensing, the better,” Evan Livingston, Polysync Test Engineer
BBC tech writer, and Click contributor, Bill Thompson shared some good insights on my report, emphasizing the importance of new drone regulations that will help bring drones from the Wild West era to “civilization in the sky.”
My report aired on September 27th on the BBC World Service’s Click Radio. Listen to the 5 minute audio clip:
 .

 

Here’s a transcript of my report (edited for length and clarity).

BBC Click Host, Gareth Mitchell: Flying cars are part of the subject for our final item. We’re off to Portland, Oregon to its famous “Silicon Forest”, their counterpart to Silicon Valley in California. There’s a startup there working on flying cars, another is working on autonomous vehicles and we have this report from Alison van Diggelen, who’s been there.

Alison van Diggelen: My first stop was the Technology Association of Oregon. Its President, Skip Newberry is bullish about Portland’s growth prospects: in data, software development, and the Internet of Things.

Skip Newberry: I refer to Portland as having this Goldilocks phenomenon: we’re not too big, not too small, not too expensive and yet we also have some interesting amenities and international connections. We have a great quality of life.

Alison van Diggelen: He sent me to Polysync, a software startup that helps speed up the development of autonomous cars.

Polysync demo car, photo by Alison van Diggelen for BBCPolysync just earned a top 10 startup ranking at this year’s L.A. Auto Show.

Evan Livingston: On the right trigger we have acceleration, on the left trigger we have breaking. [Ambi: car accelerating and breaking]

Alison van Diggelen: In a converted warehouse, Polysync’s engineers test the software of autonomous cars to make sure all the sensors are communicating. Field engineer, Evan Livingston gave me a demo.

Evan Livingston: On this car, we have about 15 different sensors…we have 4 cameras that give us 360 degree views of the environment, we have six radars. We have 2 different LIDAR systems, and then we have a GPS inertial movement unit…so it gives us a very accurate location of the vehicle.

Alison van Diggelen: We discuss the recent fatal crash involving Tesla’s autopilot feature.

Evan Livingston: That’s the problem with autonomous driving: each one of these sensing modalities has their limitations: some don’t see well in rain, in fog, at dusk. The Mobile Eye, what Tesla was using to detect lanes, some objects…that does very poorly at dusk….when the sun is head on. You really want backup, systems that are all corroborating its perception of the environment. In my opinion, the more sensing, the better.

Evan Livingston demos Polysync tech, by Alison van Diggelen for BBCEvan Livingston sets up a demo of the Polysync software that connects the car’s 15 sensors.

Alison van Diggelen: Polysync’s team has doubled in size in this year, driven by partnerships with over 50 major car manufacturers and their suppliers. The company uses a 32-acre “mock city” campus near Detroit for testing. It’s called M-City. Here’s Polysync’s CEO, Josh Hartung.

josh-hartung-ceo-polysync-interview-by-alison-van-diggelen-for-bbcJosh Hartung says MCity’s physical test track allows them to test near collisions and real world simulations.

Josh Hartung: They have cute fake buildings, and intersections, a small section of highway, little stop lights…. They have different ways they can trick an algorithm to think that it’s a real  person with cardboard cutouts or inflatable targets. It’s one of the first in the world.

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Polysync demo shows the car sensors in action

Alison van Diggelen: Across the Willamette River, I meet with Jonathan Evans, a former Blackhawk pilot in the army. He leads Skyward, an operations platform for commercial drones. He’s excited about how our perception of drones is changing as they touch our lives ever more closely…from fun toys to aerial surveys to even delivering breaking news.

Jonathan Evans: They look at this really beautiful piece of technology that is really like a flying cellphone. It’s gyro-stabilized, grid-oriented, information-oriented robot that can move ubiquitously in space… We take the pilots and the aircraft and we put them into the global airspace and help them conform to whatever the rules of the road are there. We were in the era of the Wild West… but now we have regulators that have provided us the channels to flow into responsibly. You can see a dramatic shift into civilization in the sky.

Alison van Diggelen: Evans thinks that drones will soon make (package) deliveries –even Internet delivery – and anticipates a paradigm shift in transportation.

Jonathan Evans, CEO Skyward, photo by Alison van Diggelen for BBC.Jonathan Evans: On the ground, things are getting much more clogged and it’s harder to move from A to B and when you look at the sky, you have a blank slate. Within 5-10 years you will see human-moving aero robots that will be moving programmatically in space. It’s a lot like the vision we have of the Jetsons. It’s going to be much more on-demand, much cheaper, empowering all of us to be able to access the sky for whatever we want to.

Alison van Diggelen: Silicon Valley companies may steal the limelight but behind the scenes, Portland’s “Silicon Forest” is making its mark on the evolution and impact of technology around the world. [Ambi: Skyward flight ops team, DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone]

Jonathan Natiuk: “That’s kinda cool, man!”

(Report ends)

Gareth Mitchell: Are we really heading for the Jetsons in our lives, do you think Bill Thompson?

Bill Thompson: Well, I started off being really skeptical about this…but then I discovered a human carrying drone is being tested in Nevada, the eHang drone…the actual hardware is being built. It can go 100 km/hour. The hardware is there and what we hear from Skyward is that the regulation is starting to be there. That’s the crucial thing. It’s about making sure if we have the technology that can deliver these things. It fits into a broader regulatory environment, so it becomes both legal and as safe as it can be to do them. It took a long time for the automobile, for the car, to go from being something strange and mysterious to dominating our cities. I do think we will get to the stage where we’re using the skies in these new ways, so actually, yeah: it is coming.

Find out more about electric and autonomous vehicles, from Tesla to Hyperloop at Fresh Dialogues EV archives