The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: Three carmakers just teamed up with this Chinese company; broad global disagreement on AV ethics; and what the US elections might mean for AV safety

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. Engineering morality, part II

MIT hoped to establish a global utilitarian model of robotic ethics when it crowd-sourced an autonomous reimagining of the so-called runaway trolley problem, a frustrating philosophical exercise in which, in its updated version, a self-driving vehicle would strike and kill a toddler and its young mother or, if action was taken, kill four senior citizens and a puppy.

Instead, MIT found that there were no good answers and, it seems, no agreement among respondents representing the world’s leading driverless destinations.

Asked whether a self-driving car should, in situations where death or injury is unavoidable, prioritize the lives of its passengers over those of innocent pedestrians, or vice-versa, Chinese respondents overwhelmingly favored killing the pedestrian over the passenger. Japanese, Norwegian and Singaporean respondents, meanwhile, gave priority to pedestrians.

As if contending with a global patchwork of regulatory frameworks wasn’t complicated enough, it seems the makers of autonomous vehicles will need to take into account native ethical systems.

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. A Chinese hegemon?

Last year, Chinese search giant Baidu opened a crowd-sourced autonomous driving consortium called Apollo. This week, three of the world’s largest automakers separately announced that they were collaborating with the company on the development of self-driving cars.

Volvo, the luxury Swedish brand, said it had negotiated a deal with Baidu to jointly develop electric and autonomous vehicles for mass production, while Germany’s Volkswagen said it was joining the Apollo consortium to accelerate its drivleress initiative in the face of stiff competition from the likes of Waymo and Tesla. Just days earlier Ford announced plans to begin testing autonomous vehicles with Baidu before year’s end.

Taken together, the moves signal a rising driverless hegemony in Baidu, which for years has struggled to compete with Alphabet-owned Google and Waymo in attracting talent and strategic partnerships

3. The Auto(nomous) Bahn

  • General Motors CEO Mary Barra told The New York Times this week that the Detroit automaker remains on track to launch a commercial self-driving ride-sharing service next year.
  • California transportation regulators on Tuesday greenlighted plans by Waymo to test fully autonomous vehicles on public roads at speeds as high as 65 mph, the first such pilot in the United States.
  • Consumer advocates are hoping that a possible blue wave in next week’s US elections might put a check on the Trump administration’s non-interventionist outlook on self-driving car testing and portend stricter safety rules.
  • One of the creators of the New Urbanism design movement, which promotes mixed-use, walkable communities, said he doesn’t believe driverless cars will ease city congestion.

4. 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.

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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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