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.
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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
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