Would you perish in this AV ethics thought exercise?; Ford, lagging rivals, will be first to bring AVs to US capital; and Apple’s new caravanning patent.

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 ethics

A haunting 1960s philosophical exercise in which there are no good choices—only less awful ones, perhaps—just got crowd-sourced by MIT roboticists who hope to develop an ethical baseline for autonomous vehicles. That is to say, teaching robots to assign value to human life.

A game-like survey called the Moral Machine asks participants to select the better outcome when crash and carnage is unavoidable, a 21st century reimagining of the so-called Trolley Problem in which a runaway trolley is careening down the tracks and, if no action is taken, will kill five workers or, if redirected, will kill only one.

The exercise, which attracted 2.3 million participants from more than 230 countries, revealed a broad disposition toward youth over age and women over men in a long series of no-win what-if scenarios.

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. Driverless in the District

Autonomous vehicles are coming to the footsteps of the US Congress, even as that body remains stalled more than a year into its deliberation of a federal regulatory framework governing the technology.

Ford Motor Company announced in a press conference this week it would begin testing autonomous vehicles on the streets of the nation’s capital early next year—its fourth pilot, following earlier initiatives in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Miami—as the carmaker’s driverless strategy comes into focus.

They’ll be the first self-driving cars to operate in the city.

The plan:

  • Ford said it would deploy between five and ten experimental cars in all of DC’s eight neighborhoods, a concession to municipal government that it called “equitable deployment.”
  • It has another 15 already in operation in Miami.
  • A contingency driver and an engineer will be present in the vehicles at all times, although the plan is to ditch both when the technology has sufficiently matured.
  • It’s aiming for a 2021 commercial launch of a dual taxi-and-last-mile-delivery platform.

Now, for some cold water perspective:

  • Waymo’s fleet numbered two dozen in mid-2015;
  • Its fleet has swelled to more than 600 today, and the company has orders in the queue that would grow it by a factor of 100; and
  • The company will go public with its first commercial offering in metropolitan Phoenix later this year.

The Detroit heavyweight won’t be the first to market, and is generally regarded to be trailing even other carmakers, most notably General Motors. But the company’s integrated approach to monetizing autonomy and its recent GM-like reognization of its driverless program has industry watchers newly upbeat about its prospects.

3. The Auto(nomous) Bahn

The undersecretary for policy at the US Department of Transportation warned makers of autonomous vehicles that they “need a better yardstick to show that their products are safe.”

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.

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

Subscribe and stay updated
Receive our latest blog posts by email.
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.

Full bio

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.

Full bio