The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: Report cards are in for California AV operators; how local nuance will influence global AV deployment; Ford and VW near AV deal

1. Better beat the mailman home, kids

California transportation authorities released this week the state’s annual disengagements report, a report card of sorts on each company engaged in autonomous testing in the Golden State. 

Under California law, all licensed driverless-car operators are required to self-report to the state Department of Transportation all the instances of human contingency engineers wresting control from self-driving systems. 

While it’s the most intimate look at the pace and progress of the industry available to outsiders, companies have broad latitude in how and what data they report, so the picture is, at best, opaque.

What we know:

  • More miles and fewer hiccups.
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The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: AVs are finally (almost) here (or still a decade off); logistics networks look to AV tech; and Waymo makes friends with legacy car makers

Welcome again to The Driverless Commute, presented by the global law firm Dentons, a weekly digest clocking the most important technical, legal and regulatory developments shaping the path to full autonomy.

1. Hype or Hope

Driverless vehicles’ capabilities have plainly been over-hyped, their technical progress grossly exaggerated and their real-world deployment stymied, as manufacturers, investors and would-be operators sober up to the unique challenges and costs of engineering and testing the car of tomorrow, today.

Consider these two front-page stories from one of Britain’s most influential papers, separated by eleven months:

Like the plucky protaganist in Little Orphan Annie, it seems that we’re always looking to a tomorrow that’s “always a day away” when the “sun’ll come out” and autonomous vehicles will be as common as yellow cabs on NYC streets.

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The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: IP theft in AVs roils US-China relationship; Tesla driver filmed sleeping while traveling highway; Singapore adopts national AV rules; and Vegas is starting to digitize its roads.

Welcome again to The Driverless Commute, presented by the global law firm Dentons, a weekly digest clocking the most important technical, legal and regulatory developments shaping the path to full autonomy.

1. One step forward, two steps back

A second Chinese national working on Apple’s autonomous vehicle project has been accused by US law enforcement of stealing the electronics giant’s trade secrets for a Sino competitor.

  • Jizhong Chen, a former engineer on Apple’s secretive self-driving initiative, was trying to sell sensitive details of the project to a Chinese firm, according to a newly unsealed criminal complaint.
  • The incident marks the second case in six months of a Chinese national illegally trafficking in Apple’s AV-related trade secrets (the second case, that is, that US officials have caught) and it came after the White House had already slapped $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports in response to systemic intellectual property theft.
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Talking cars: The FCC holds the key to unlocking the promise of autonomous vehicles

The dream fueling the development of driverless systems is a world where people and goods are transported quickly and efficiently, and without the accidents, pollution or visual clutter that are inevitable when humans control each vehicle individually. In this imagined new world, each vehicle would be optimized for its intended use, allowing us to reclaim all of the time and money we currently waste sitting in traffic or waiting for goods to arrive. In fact, the technologies needed to support autonomous vehicles are improving so quickly that this dream could soon become a reality, which has awakened regulators and lawmakers to the pressing need to confront the issue of digital roadway management.

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The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: As goes California, so goes the nation?; AVs’ road sign conundrum; Apple pumps brakes on Project Titan; and Waymo picks Motor City site for new plant.

Welcome again to The Driverless Commute, presented by the global law firm Dentons, a weekly digest clocking the most important technical, legal and regulatory developments shaping the path to full autonomy.

1. Dominoes

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles approved new rules last spring that allowed for the strict, carefully defined permitting of fully self-driving vehicles in a bid to reassert its bygone primacy over more permissive (that is, redder) testing jurisdictions.

At the time, we wondered whether the Golden State’s invitation to full—albeit still tightly controlled—autonomy might trigger a sort of regulatory gold rush among other AV-testing states, each more eager than the next to hasten the deployment of self-driving cars on their roads by easing testing rules.

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The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: China leapfrogs a laggard US; AV sector tightens its belt; Stop & Shop, Robomart partner on self-driving bodega

Welcome again to The Driverless Commute, presented by the global law firm Dentons, a weekly digest clocking the most important technical, legal and regulatory developments shaping the path to full autonomy.

1. Moon race

By next year China wants one-third of all cars sold to include limited, semi-autonomous technology, according to an ambitious government plan just released.

  • Other provisions of the blueprint—architected by the government’s science and technology ministry and whose principal author has advocated for insulating the country’s technology sector by restricting access of Western firms—include the rapid expansion of its national vehicle-to-everything infrastructure and an on-board connectivity target of at least 60 percent of new vehicles in the same period.
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The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: Top 5 things to watch for in 2019; Japan might allow TV consumption in AVs; BMW unveils self-driving motorcycle

Welcome again to The Driverless Commute, presented by the global law firm Dentons, a weekly digest clocking the most important technical, legal and regulatory developments shaping the path to full autonomy.

1. Five AV things to watch in 2019

It’s been a decade since Google set in motion the once inconconceivable moonshot that a car could safely operate itself, but the administrative state in Washington, DC, has yet to catch up—even as increasingly robust self-driving programs go to market.

Whether the feds’ laissez-faire approach is a function of intentional design or lazy deficiency, increasingly restive state and local governments have begun exploring their own complex, and often competing, regulatory answers to the persisting questions of safety and liability.

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