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. A driver’s test for a driverless car
How does one measure and, importantly, authenticate the roadsmanship of a self-driving car when the closest approximation to safety minimums are lax and completely voluntary guidelines from federal authorities?
The answer is you can’t—which has left an uneasy public to ask which driverless initiatives have shown a deep fidelity to safety and which are playing fast and loose. Practically speaking, how to define safety in the context of an evolving technology is no easy task, but a new Uber-funded study by the RAND Corporation attempts it.
So what might a driver’s test for a driverless car look like?
“Among the things that might be measured: How much space does the driverless car leave between itself and cars to the front and sides? How much more cautious does it become when its sensors are obscured or sightlines are bad? How often does it jerk out of the way of another car or slam on the brakes, either because of its own shortcomings or the poor driving of others nearby?”
These questions have come to the fore as the Republican congressional sponsors of a proposed federal regulatory framework that is currently stalled in committee over the safety and cyber concerns of some Democratic members have begun frantically pushing to advance the legislation before the end of the current Congress.
Barring immediate action, the legislative effort would start anew next year, when partisan control of one of both chambers could flip.
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2. The Revolving Door
Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx this week joined ride-hailing giant Lyft as chief policy officer, the latest in a trend of former senior government officials who’ve taken key advisory or policy posts at automotive or technology outfits pursuing autonomy.
- Former Administrator of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Mark Rosekind, hired as chief safety innovation officer at Zoox;
- Paul Hemmersbaugh, formerly NHTSA’s chief counsel, was hired by General Motors to help develop its transportation-as-a-service offering; and
- Kevin Vincent, another ex-chief counsel at NHTSA, was hired as regulatory and government affairs lead for Workhorse Group, an Ohio-based builder of electric truck chassis.
The revolving door–a practice some good government watchdogs have called corrosive–is as old as Washington itself, but its application in the context of automotive autonomy is new.
Exit question: Could the trend of ex-government officials cashing out at major AV firms sour the public to the industry, as its done in the health care and financial services sectors, or might their informed counsel help clear DC’s regulatory logjam?
3. The Auto(nomous) Bahn
- Waymo, the Alphabet self-driving spin-off, said this week its ever-expanding autonomous fleet had driven in excess of 10 million miles on public roads.
- The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has given its first statewide self-driving permit to Aurora, founded by three AV engineering giants (alums of Carnegie Mellon, Google and Uber) and now in partnership with China’s Byton.
- The governor of Arizona, following a public blowback after a driverless car-related death in Tempe, announced a new, public-private partnership that marries three state universities, various state safety, transportation and commerce agencies, and Intel Corporation. The new initiative will be named the Institute for Automated Mobility.
- The United Nation’s Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) gave its imprimatur this week to a self-driving resolution and offered recommendations for safely integrating the technology into an already-complicated road matrix.
4. Know everything AV, all the time
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