A “Level 5" autonomous vehicle identifies obstacles – all without the familiar controls like pedals, brakes, or a steering wheel.

To achieve such a high standard of autonomy, however, will require the testing and validating of embedded systems and technologies.

With self-driving vehicles poised to take the road, how can today’s engineers prepare themselves to support an autonomous future?

In a recent webinar titled Automated and Connected Commercial Vehicles: Next Steps for ‘Hands-Off’ Operation, a reader had the following question for two presenters:

"For high school students and university students, what areas of study and degrees are desirable for the autonomous industry?

Chris Woodward from off-highway hydraulics manufacturer Danfoss Power Solutions, as well as Jace Allen from the automotive simulation provider dSPACE, shared their thoughts. See their responses below. (Do you agree? Place your own comments at the bottom of this page.)

Chris Woodward, Business Development Manager of Autonomous Machines, Danfoss Power Solutions: We’re seeing a lot of great robotics applications, even at the elementary-school age. Kids are getting interested in robotics through some STEM programs. Then, coming out of the university programs, you’re really marrying up the mechanical world and the knowledge of machines with some pretty advanced software. We’ve had some good luck, and we’ve met some really great people that came out of these programs. We’re excited to see those programs grow and continue.

Jace Allen, Business Development Manager of Simulation, Test, and Electrical/Electronics Data Management, dSPACE Inc. One of the prototype frameworks that people are using for autonomous systems, to manage the different integration of technologies, is called ROS. The Robot Operating System is an open-source tool that people are using to integrate different types of tools into autonomous-system implementations.

What’s interesting in the industry: With the advent of AI systems, it’s not so much the classical control-systems people or model-systems people that are there [doing development]. There are a lot of software programmers today, and people that have an understanding of robotics. Implementing systems and connecting them together becomes very critical in this type of environment.

There’s a lot of opportunity for kids to become software engineers, and to play a great role in this environment in the future.

What areas of study do you think are important? Share your comments and questions below.