You may not want to look back at 2021 at all, but there were some interesting trends in the top stories that appeared over the year in Fierce Electronics as determined by page views.
Our top story, by 10 times the page views of the second top story, was about an upcoming U.S. technology pilot to measure miles of road use per vehicle. The reason? To eventually apply a charge or tax or fee on motorists to attempt to bolster the Highway Trust Fund, which relies on taxes on gasoline and has been in trouble for years. As electric vehicles emerge, there will be less gasoline consumed and therefore less tax revenue. It will take years, if ever, to convert to a use tax, but that’s the idea.
“Goodbye gas tax. Hello road user fees” ran Aug. 13, just after the U.S. Senate approved a $1 trillion infrastructure bill on a bi-partisan basis.
The infrastructure measure later passed the House after a lot of wrangling and handwringing and was signed into law Nov.15 with the five-year pilot project with volunteers left intact with $50 million in funding.
States that are already testing or in the process of adopting road user fees want to make sure their insights on the technology are taken into account, but a large number of supporters welcome the idea of keeping a road use tax uniform across all the states, even truckers.
A big issue is how to securely collect the data on road use, and it might happen through smartphones or devices embedded in cars. Or it could be done by insurance companies or electric vehicle charging stations in some unprescribed manner. There’s a lot of time to figure it out, and Congress wants to make sure whatever tack is taken ensures the privacy of the motorists involved.
Why was this such a big story for Fierce Electronics? Well, a lot was due to social networks with users who passed the story around. They could include Washington lobbyists and engineers and marketing folks at technology companies that sell sensors and applications that would be helpful in the pilot project.
But even those readers do not fully explain such a huge response to the story. One theory, that cats across the globe teamed up to click on the story repeatedly over several days, has fallen apart. Another theory is that the headline had periods in it, two of them. Like two sentences—a new/old fad in journalism to drive the clickbait bots nuts. (You can tell by now some of these theories are random.)
But taxes, oh! They are a perennial favorite of community newspaper editors everywhere—right up there with children competing in the YMCA backstroke competition or endless photos of car wrecks on the busy interstate. Taxes are not yet a popular subject on TikTok, but probably should be. They are right up there in story value with photos of children--any children—and kittens and puppies.
An ideal photo would be a minor car crash involving the county tax assessor’s vehicle as children line up to watch a tow truck haul the wreck away with their dogs seated along the curb alongside their owners and a little child holding an adorable kitten in an updated Norman Rockwell magazine cover.
That may sound cynical, but the original story on the road use pilot attracted many comments on LinkedIn by people outraged by the size of their gas tax in various states. Others worried the government is not using the trust fund responsibly for surface transportation. A few were interested in whether vehicle miles traveled data on a smartphone could be hacked, much to the dismay of privacy advocates. (The answer is not entirely straightforward, at least until better security comes along. The weak link might not even be the smartphone and could be the network supporting it or the government agency receiving the data. Yes, we all trust our government security implicitly! It goes on and on, which is the problem with security stories in general and makes everybody so continuously frustrated about computing.)
So…we are looking ahead to the day, in 15 years, when a cat is seen perched at the wheel of an autonomous vehicle as her owner connects a charging cable and simultaneously consults her smartphone to see what the road use charge was for her trip.
As for the other nine top stories on Fierce Electronics in 2021, there were some interesting trends. Stories about space and the chip shortage took up five of the nine, while two involved robotics, one for surgeries and the other Tesla’s humanoid version.
The second and third top stories, respectively, were about the Mars helicopter landing on Mars Feb. 17 (Drone helicopter lands on Mars attached to belly of Perseverance rover) and the May 4 story about the Dragonfly drone planned for landing on Titan ( Dragonfly drone to fly on Titan in follow-up of Ingenuity on Mars.) Quick trivia: you know Titan is a moon, but which planet does it revolve around?
The chip shortage stories were about – heck, do you really want to know? That is why the past is the past. But, yes, they were about Biden’s plans to manage the chip shortage way back in February (How Biden plans to tackle the chip shortage), the Xilinx CEO on the AMD-Xilinx deal and the chip storage (Victor Peng on the AMD-Xilinx deal, chip shortage, more) and the industrial sectors hurt most by the shortage (4 sectors hardest hit by the global chip shortage).
By now you have figured out we had and still have a chip shortage, even as the globe is on track to sell more chips in 2021 than any time in history. (Not all the critically-needed chips are in abundant supply, so there is a shortfall for some types of chips, especially legacy chips used in auto power trains. You see, there are many types of chips. Many.)
Outside of those trends, check out these outliers: The fourth top story was about the key skills embedded engineers need to know, posted way back in September 2020 (The key skills that every embedded engineer needs now) while the 8th was about solid state batteries for future EVs, indirectly related to the top story on the user fee pilot and its connection to EVs and their batteries (The future of EVs is solid—as in solid-state batteries). Elon Musk even made an appearance in the top 10 (Robot reality: Tesla faces tough task with humanoid robot).
Of course, we at Fierce Electronics constantly post a stream of stories on tech fundamentals (Our latest: What is non-volatile memory? ) and we are always open to suggestions. In fact, you can suggest your favorite topic on nearly anything involving electronics by emailing [email protected] and we will promptly stuff them in the…no!…we will read them and consider them. Bear in mind, if it involves pets, children and some weird, even remote connection to technology, it might generate readership. Does not mean it would be a dignified story suitable for the New York Times, but hey…
(Wait just one minute! If your story idea is some weird metaverse topic involving gratuitous sex, please pass it to another publication as that has all been done long ago, and what in the world is really new about that stuff anyway? We wrote about all that back in 2012 for Computerworld when Second Life got dive-bombed by nude avatars and Cisco backed off holding public meetings there. Dang, this is almost 10 years later, and we all know a decade in the tech world is like a century for everything else, including the pandemic that drags on like a bad bitcoin saga.)
So, here we go, the Fierce Electronics Top 10 stories for 2021: