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.
Government-backed corporate espionage has been (and remains) a key source of friction between the two nations.
- In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping and then-US President Barack Obama struck a (largely toothless) deal to put an end to the activity. Experts criticized the arrangement because it failed to address China’s so-called “Trade-Technology-for-Market” rule, which dates back to the 1980s and requires non-Chinese companies in strategic sectors, as a condition for market entry, to enter into a joint venture with (an often state-owned) Chinese operator.
- In April, China pledged it would roll back its technology-transfer condition for cars.
Fast forward to Wednesday, when the National People’s Congress said it would submit for ratification during a plenary session next month a new foreign investment law that formally codifies its commitment to end mandatory technology transfers in all sectors.
The move comes as negotiators from both countries meet in Washington for the latest round of tariff-and-trade-war talks, making clear that China wants its government to be seen as committed to the international intellectual property order.
But what about Chinese industrialists themselves? Apple, which has signaled it would vigorously defend its trade secrets from any attempts at theft, might not be so convinced.
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2. Shot-Chaser: partial autonomy isn’t full autonomy
Shot: “Tesla driver filmed ‘sleeping at the wheel’ of semi-autonomous Model X,” The Independent, January 31, 2019
Chaser: “No, Elon, the Navigate on Autopilot feature is not ‘fully self-driving’,” The Verge, January 31, 2019
A man was seen fast at sleep behind the wheel of a Tesla while the car was operating in semi-autonomous mode on a Las Vegas highway just hours before the chief executive of the electric car maker told investors on an earning call that all Teslas are capable of “fully self-driving.”
3. The Auto(nomous) Bahn
- Singaporean officials this week introduced new national standards for the deployment of autonomous vehicles.
- Toyota wants mapping systems for autonomous vehicles to be open-sourced
- Michigan’s state economic development authority greenlighted $8 million in corporate subsidies for Waymo, which had previously announced it would anchor a major facility in the state.
- At a Chicago mayoral candidates’ forum this week, the would-be mayors expressed universal skepticism of self-driving cars.
- Las Vegas is digitizing its roads to prepare for smart, connected cars.
- Amazon has begun hauling cargo in self-driving trucks.