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.
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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.
- 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
- You probably think this song is about you: US driverless cars struggle to recognize iconic British cars and buses, including London’s towering red buses and black hackney cabs.
- Tech giant Apple has filed a patent in the US for multiple cars to share battery capacity through technology it calls a “connector arm” that would facilitate autonomous caravanning.
- Consumer Reports has rated Cadillac’s advanced driver assistance system as tops for balancing partial automation with the imperative to keep drivers actively engaged.
- The governor of Illinois signed an executive order this week authorizing creation of a new state agency to establish safety and testing protocols for the operation of driverless cars in the Prairie State.
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
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