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New more laissez-faire robocar rules may arise

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While very few details have come out, Reuters reports that new proposed congressional bills on self-driving cars will reverse many of the provisions I critiqued in the NHTSA regulations last year.

One big change is a reversal of the new idea of pre-market regulation. Today, new car technologies are not regulated before they are deployed, but NHTSA proposed giving itself the power to regulate technologies even before they exist. Currently most car technologies like adaptive cruise control, autopilots, forward collision avoidance, lanekeeping and the like remain unregulated after a decade or more of deployment with few, if any, problems.

This is important because the old doctrine of "We don't regulate until we see a problem the industry own't fix on its own" is a much better one for innovation, and the speed of innovation is key in deciding which countries and companies lead this technology. The opposite approach of "we try to imagine what might go wrong and ban it ahead of time" may seem safer, but it's definitely an impediment to innovation and may actually result in far more deaths through the delay of life-saving technologies.

Harder to judge is the preemption of state rules. While states are also attempting to pre-regulate, having a laboratory of 50 different competing states can also be good for innovation on the legal side. There is not one answer, and while it's more complex to deal with 50 sets of regulations instead of one, it's not that much more complex.

One of the few interesting and good ideas in the NHTSA regs may also vanish. NHTSA wanted all vendors to make available all sensor logs from all incidents. As I predicted, companies pushed back on this -- their testing logs and the resulting test suites are very important competitive assets. The company with the best test suite is the furthest on the path to the safety needed for deployment. On the other hand, sharing this data would let everybody get further on that path, faster.

There has been lots of other news during the long road-trip I am on in Europe. This includes more entrants in the race, the retirement of Google's 3rd generation "koala" car, lots more at Uber and more. Plus I will report from the Autonomous Car Testing and Development conference in Stuttgart starting Tuesday.

Comments

For purely selfish reasons, I'm pleased to see you blogging again, and look forward to more updates.
As an aside I decided to put a little of my money where my mouth is an purchase google and amazon shares for the long term.
Interestingly after thinking a fair bit about who will benefit from the coming transport revolution, it's easier to come up with losers rather than winners.
Obvious losers appear to be the auto industry their suppliers and insurers, and repairers, and the oil and gas industries.
Car parking companies, petrol stations.
Winners will be trucking and delivery services, online retail, the entertainment industry, possibly architects redeveloping all the car parking buildings and garages, tourism (timid travellers will get more freedom when your car not only knows the way to go but drives you there)
Anyway lots more possibilities, but only a few seemed sure enough to back.
I would be interested to know of other investors who are taking a bet on this being as huge as we hope it will be.

In my talks, I outline winners and losers. I think we'll go electric, so the people making components for small electric robocars win, and the people clinging to the old world of big gasoline cars with thousands of parts lose. People who sell cars lose, and those who finance them, and those who think fleets win.

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