The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: Toyota’s trunk space tease, GM’s blockchain solution for AV data, and a parade of last-mile delivery pilots announced in California

Happy New Year and 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. Look to the blockchain

General Motors has filed a patent application in the United States in which the car giant proposes a blockchain solution to manage the gobs of data transmitted and processed by autonomous vehicles.

  • Blockchain for Dummies: Imagine a spreadsheet that has been duplicated across a huge constellation of computers, each one capable of consuming and transmitting information in real time to the broader network. Each update is instantly registered across the full network, meaning the data is both public and verifiable. And because there’s no central depot for all that data, but it’s simultaneously stored across an expansive network instead, it’s harder to hack. 
  • You can start to see why, for a technology that’s uniquely dependent on accurate and secure data, that might be appealing.

The application describes a system in which blockchain could allow for the secure, interoperable exchange of data between mutliple automated vehicles and other key entities, including municipal and public authorities. Because autonomous vehicles require that. 

  • Why it’s notable: The platform as envisioned would allow for the sharing of highly practical, confirmed information, including real-time navigation data and the availability of gas stations or electric vehicle recharging stations, as well as a conduit to fee-based services, such as tolls, parking and car washes. 
  • It’s also yet another signal that car companies are no longer merely greasy metal benders, but sophisticated drivers of avant garde technology.

The Driverless Commute, a subscription-based service, is provided by Dentons’ global Autonomous Vehicles team. If you believe a colleague or associate would benefit from this service, please share this link so they may subscribe.

2. Trunk space

Toyota, the world’s largest car maker, is unveiling a self-driving prototype with more trunk room at next week’s CES in Las Vegas.

  • Before you chortle: Much of the requisite componentry for automated cars is housed in the vehicle’s trunk, which means that Toyota has managed the engineering feat of condensing all that bulky equipment without (hopefully) compromising safe operation.

Speaking of CES: Send us your photos and tips all next week if you’re in Vegas for the occasion.

3. The Auto(nomous) Bahn

  • Arizonans are continuing to harass autonomous vehicles on public roads. One as-yet-unidentified motorist has repeatedly driven into the wrong lane to barrel head-on towards multiple Waymo self-driving vans. It’s become so bad that the chief operating officer of Valley Metro, the regional transit system in and around  Phoenix, has taken to explicitly telling people to stop throwing rocks.
  • Will a delayed 5G deployment hamper mass applications of automated vehicles if carmakers can’t find a solution to data latency?
  • Dubai’s transportation authorities launched the emirate’s first self-driving ride-hailing pilot this week.
  • GM announced this week that it had sold its 200,000th plug-in vehicle in the United States, triggering a phaseout of the $7,500 federal tax credit. The sales achievement makes it the second carmaker to lose the tax credit behind Tesla.

4. The munchies

General Motors’ self-driving unit, Cruise Automation, announced a deal Thursday with on-demand food courier DoorDash for restaurant and grocery delivery in self-driving cars, the latest departure from the automaker’s halcyon business model of making and selling cars to ordinary consumers.

The pilot will launch in March and operate in San Francisco, where Cruise has already been testing vehicles for the previous three years.

Ninety miles inland, at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA, PepsiCo announced at the same time that it would begin making deliveries of snacks and drinks to students with the use of self-driving robots. The last-mile pods, developed by Robby Technologies, will move at a cautious speed of 6 miles per hour.

Last year, Kroger, Walmart, Starbucks, Pizza Hut and Domino’s all signaled that they would start or expand autonomous grocery and food delivery. 

But you should expect to see at least another dozen join their ranks in the first two quarters of the new year as companies look for an early edge in the automated last-mile delivery race, which Ford Motor Co. last year estimated could exceed $130 billion in just seven years. 

5. Know everything AV, all the time

Our best-in-industry intelligence service, The Console, marries machine learning algorithms with human analysis to create comprehensive, real-time advisories on everything autonomy.

The Console monitors, digests and packages everything of consequence to your business: television and radio chatter, social media scoops, legislative and regulatory activity, legal filings, acquisitions and white papers.

A service of Dentons’ 3D Global Affairs, which yokes traditional legal capabilities to government affairs, corporate competitive analysis and strategic communications, The Console mines the public record to populate an easy-to-navigate platform. Click here to request a no-obligation demonstration of the service with James and Eric.

Click here to speak with our experts and attorneys across the world to learn more about any of the items contained in this newsletter.

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Eric Tanenblatt

About Eric Tanenblatt

Eric Tanenblatt is the Global Chair of Public Policy and Regulation of Dentons, the world's largest law firm. He also leads the firm's US Public Policy Practice, leveraging his three decades of experience at the very highest levels of the federal and state governments.

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James Richardson

About James Richardson

James Richardson is a strategic communications counselor with 15 years’ experience advising presidential candidates, Global Fortune 500 executives, national nonprofits, and sovereign governments on strategic communications and reputation management. He helps lead Dentons’ 3D Global Affairs practice.

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