The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: Is China going to eclipse the US in AV race?; Or is Silicon Valley too big to fail?; Florida town testing an autonomous school bus; looking back at the first car-related death in 1999; and Lyft’s plan to get y

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. Clipping their heels

Driving in China is a miserable, treacherous proposition. With more than 700 traffic-related deaths each day and traffic jams denser even than some communities (no, that photograph isn’t a parking lot, but instead a traffic jam that lasted 11 days), it’s not surprising that Chinese motorists are among the most eager in the world for the deployment of autonomous technology.

But self-driving vehicles function best (and most safely) in conditions of limited variables—that is to say, not the typical Chinese road.

Undeterred, Beijing has pursued a strategy to make China the global driverless leader by normalizing and easing federal and local testing protocols and by strategically incentivizing development by private industry. It’s working, and most experts agree that China is fast on the heels of the United States, where political inertia has stalled the consideration of a comprehensive regulatory regime.

Eager to own the new artificial intelligence age, the line between business and government has blurred, and billions of dollars are flowing between the two to underwrite aggressive research programs. Beijing also appreciates its value to global automakers—it’s the largest car market in the world—and has established protectionist rules that foreign car outfits must partner with local software firms if they wish to test in China.

In spite of these rules, Germany’s Big Three, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, which are also among the world’s largest automakers, have “begun quietly testing autonomous vehicles in China,” according to the Financial Times. More:

“To conduct trials, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have all agreed to use Chinese mapping and data providers, setting aside their existing international systems in order to gain a foothold in the nascent technology being deployed in the world’s largest car market. …

“Carmakers all over the world are developing self-driving systems, partnering with an array of technology businesses, but may be forced to make concessions to operate in China, a market where some technology businesses such as Google face restrictions.”

Exit question: Does China’s form of government, protectionist posture and already-robust technology market mean it will eclipse the US in the driverless race? Email us your thoughts; we’ll feature them here.

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. Counter point: Nope.

Whatever the practical consequence of the United States’ inability to forge comprehensive, federal rules to regulate (and encourage) the safe development and deployment of autonomous vehicles, the nation still enjoys privileged incumbency: Silicon Valley remains the world’s uncontested technology leader.

But is that enough to stay ahead of its global rivals? If the direction of flow of talent and money is any indication, the answer may be yes. Bloomberg reports:

“China’s homegrown search giant, much like its U.S. counterpart, has a division focused entirely on driverless vehicles. And just like its rival, Google-born Waymo, both efforts are based in Silicon Valley.

“It’s not only Baidu with a toehold in Northern California. China’s self-driving startups are sprouting major R&D outposts 6,000 miles from Beijing. China’s congested megacities may have a need for self-driving cars, but the expertise is elsewhere.

“Just ask Pony.ai founders James Peng and Tiancheng Lou. When they decided over a drink in Beijing three years ago that it was time to leave Baidu’s self-driving car unit, the plan was always to start in California. ‘Silicon Valley is definitely the place to be,’ Peng said in an interview. ‘That’s where all the talent is. China has a lot of raw talent, but with hardcore artificial intelligence, it takes years to build up. China has work to do.'”

3. What’s past is prologue, horseless carriage edition

It was in September 1899 that Henry H. Bliss, a 66-year-old New York real estate developer, stepped from a street car on Central Park West and was fatally struck by a passing taxicab, becoming the world’s first recorded casualty of the rise of horseless carriages.

The cab driver was arrested and charged with manslaughter, before being acquitted by a jury that found neither malice nor negligence.

One newspaper wrote of the incident that “the automobile had tasted blood.”

Sound familiar?

4. The Auto(nomous) Bahn

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.

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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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