Jul 19, 2017

How Washington could stifle robots, drones, driverless cars

Jared Wickerham / AP

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee this morning will hold an unheralded but consequential hearing on a bill designed to both regulate and encourage the deployment of driverless cars ("highly automated vehicles," to Congress).

  • Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) says this is a rare bipartisan issue where you can protect consumers but also encourage innovation. Her district includes Ford HQ in Dearborn, plus auto plants, suppliers and R&D labs.
  • "Like it or not, this is coming," she told me. "It's exploding faster than we can promulgate regulations."
  • Drones and autonomous vehicles are among the technologies running way ahead of the appetite and ability of a dysfunctional federal government to regulate them, and this collision of technology and regulation is one of the new realities for Washington.

Soon, drones will be dropping off packages, robots will make and deliver pizzas, and cars without drivers will cart us around time while we watch "Thrones" on our HBO in-car TV app.

California highway officials plan to start laying down thicker lane lines (from 4 inches to 6) that'll be easier for self-driving cars to follow.

The Highly Automated Vehicle Testing and Deployment Act of 2017 (full text here) would govern how to safely test the driving technologies that manufacturers have been developing, and covers cybersecurity and how to deploy the vehicles.

Why it matters: Government, especially one divided and gridlocked, is incapable of setting the rules and parameters for technologies that will transform our lives along these big trends. This is the rare bill that both parties support and could easily be signed into law by President Trump this year — unless zero-sum politics intervenes.

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Coronavirus kills 2 Diamond Princess passengers and South Korea sees first death

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. U.S. numbers include Americans extracted from Princess Cruise ship.

Two elderly Diamond Princess passengers have been killed by the novel coronavirus — the first deaths confirmed among the more than 600 infected aboard the cruise ship. South Korea also announced its first death Thursday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,200 people and infected over 75,465 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 118 new deaths since Thursday.

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SoftBank to cut its stake to get T-Mobile's Sprint deal done

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

T-Mobile and Sprint announced a revised merger agreement that will see SoftBank getting a smaller share of the combined company, while most shareholders will receive the previously agreed upon exchange rate. The companies said they hope to get the deal as early as April 1.

Why it matters: The amended deal reflects the decline in Sprint's business, while leaving most shareholders' stake intact and removing another hurdle to the deal's closure.