The forward march of progress

The California state legislature just moved that dream a little closer to reality by approving a bill paving the way for driverless cars to be allowed on Golden State freeways.

The bill, authored by State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Van Nuys), was passed by the state Assembly on Wednesday and then given the overwhelming thumbs up by the state Senate the following day.

If signed by Governor Jerry Brown, Padilla’s bill would legally allow autonomous vehicles on the road and charge the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles with determining the standards for self-driving cars, rules which current do not exist under the present vehicle code.

Here is more, and for the pointer I thank Mark Thorson.  By the way,

Hawaii, Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma are all also considering similar legislation.

Comments

Should probably lead to an update of the prior about regulators' intransigence with genuinely useful innovations.

I wonder how much these developments are related to Google's cash reserves.

Yeah, you can definitely imagine that a small startup would not have the regulatory path go as smoothly as one with Google's name recognition and clout. Nevertheless, HM is right; this should make us more optimistic at the margin about the degree of regulatory sclerosis we should expect.

Indeed, I think more often than not it's regulation that is lead by innovation rather than regulation stopping innovation. The innovation creates a need for regulation where there wasn't one before. For example, driverless cars is going to open up a range of questions about liability and a lot of the regulation will be spurred by the innovation, good and bad. (For example, if your driverless car is taken over by a hacker, whose responsible if he mows down someone with it? What if you didn't install the latest protective software?)

But deregulating doesn't in itself create innovation. Just passing a law saying driverless cars or 'tacocopters' are now legal will not cause anyone to rush to create one.

" Just passing a law saying [...] ‘tacocopters’ are now legal will not cause anyone to rush to create one."

That's a statement wildly detached from reality. The required hard-core technology for 'tacocopters' is pretty much known -- all that is required is integration of the technology in a commercially viable solution.

But no one will invest in something that has "potential terrorist exploitation" written all over it -- at least no one who is not confident that they have enough pull with the regulators to convince them that there are solutions to the risks.

So, a stagnant regulatory regime does indeed lead to delays in innovation.

But no one will invest in something that has “potential terrorist exploitation” written all over it

Right after 9/11 my late mother-in-law posed a hypothetical. "What about all those gas stations?" she pondered. Her half-serious theory was what was stopping all those people running gas stations secretely putting some device into people's gas tanks as they pumped the gas and perhaps setting them all off at some pre-determmined time? (This is NJ, btw, where by law you don't pump your own gas so every station has a guy who pumps the gas for you).

Point is if you sit down and think of all the possible ways terrorists could attack, just about everything is possible. Tacocopters, as we've been over maybe three times or more now, suffer from no real regulatory barrier. Their barrier is the laws of physics which make it almost impossible to pull them off and at the same time sell a product for enough money to cover its costs as well as a halfway decent profit...or even plausible path to profits. (In fact, when I challenge people here to actually produce the regulations that are stopping tacocopter, what little they come up with is the FAA almost begging for people to bring them proposals for unmanned commercial aircraft)

As for a 'stagnant regulatory regime'....that's exactly what is needed. You want regulators to be stagnant and stuffy. Look at the invention of telegraphs and then radio. There were no regulations initially. The business grew and the regulations came *after* the business largely agreed upon a consensus solution.

Innovation, almost by definition, leaps outside the scope of regulation which again by definition is written for old, established technologies. Driverless cars, likewise, are interesting because they are leaping into a field not where regulation prohibits them but where regulation has yet to even contemplate them.

As we've been over several times there really is a regulatory hurdle to tacocopters.

And standardization and even conservatism is very different from regulatory feet-dragging.

"Tacocopters, as we’ve been over maybe three times or more now, suffer from no real regulatory barrier. "

I don't know what you've been over, but there are extensive regulatory barriers:

http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/uas/media/UAS_FACT_Sheet.pdf
"Can a civilian company operate an UAS[Unmanned Aircraft Systems] as part of a business?

Currently, civilian companies may not operate a UAS as part of a business without obtaining a Special Airworthiness Certificate - Experimental Category (SAC-EC). However, this SAC-EC is very limited in scope of operational use. Contact FAA for details or see FAA Order 8130.34."

So in the real world, the UAS certification is for "very limited in scope of operational use" -- in your fantasy world there is "no real regulatory barrier."

"As for a ‘stagnant regulatory regime’….that’s exactly what is needed. You want regulators to be stagnant and stuffy. Look at the invention of telegraphs and then radio. There were no regulations initially."

What nonsense. You support your case for "stagnant and stuffy" regulators by giving examples of a starting point of no regulation.
A starting point of no regulation for UAS would be ideal -- but that's not even close to what we have.

Nonesense, all those innovations had 'stuffy regulation' from the previous technology. Telegraph regulation pulled from and modified regulation of mail services. Telephone looked at telegraph. Radio looked at telegraph and radio. TV looked at radio. Cable TV looked at telephone regulation and so on.

As for tacocopter, the FAA has already granted waivers for some commercial use and tacocopter would almost certainly be able to sneak in under the 500 foot exemption for 'model' planes except in a few places like near airports. Back when this was previously discussed people cited an example of a small commercial jet which supposedly cost hundreds of millions to meet FAA requirements in the 80's. Unfortunately when we dug into it it turns out they simply assumed the entire R&D cost of making a new jet from scratch was all due to FAA requirements.

"tacocopter would almost certainly be able to sneak in under the 500 foot exemption for ‘model’ planes "

Except that the "model planes" are supposed to be recreational and not commercial, the model planes must stay away from buildings (which defeats the purpose of tacocopters) and further, the regulations for model planes require that someone is supervising the plane at all times. (And it's a 400 ft limit, not 500 ft)

You simply don't know what you're taking about.

http://diydrones.com/profiles/blog/show?id=705844%3ABlogPost%3A28583

"What are those restrictions for non-commercial UAVs flying without a COA?

A: You MUST do the following: 1) Stay below 400ft. 2) Maintain a "pilot in control", which is to say that you must always be able to take manual control and fly the aircraft out of danger (in general, that means maintaining line-of-sight contact with the aircraft). 3) Stay away from built-up areas."

Like many people, you confuse advise about regulations with regulations itself. I suggest you click through to the actual one page source document from the Department of Transportation. The first sentence reads:

You also neglect the fact that innovative people are often innovative with actual regulations. Note that if you're not charging a fee to deliver the tacos via tacocopter, you can claim the copter part is just a hobby which is different from the business of selling tacos. Or you can take a page from the dot coms. Offer tacocopter for free, including the tacos. Use that to demonstrate you can keep the copters from crashing into people, buildings, and other planes. Then apply for a COA using your stellar flight history as support.

sorry, the first sentence reads:

This advisory circular outlines, and encourages voluntary compliance with, safety standards for model aircraft operators

That is not a regulation. Keywords: 'advisory' and 'voluntary'.

"you confuse advise about regulations with regulations itself."

Advisory circulars are guidelines for how to avoid breaking regulations. Certainly you would have to be an idiot to invest millions in technology that explicitly ignores Advisory Circulars, without having some sort of confidence that the regulatory regime will change in a way that's favorable to you.

http://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsid=6287

"Recreational use of the NAS is covered by FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 91-57 which generally limits operations to below 400 feet above ground level and away from airports and air traffic."

Calling this "voluntary compliance" is a completely unrealistic description of the situation.

"Then apply for a COA using your stellar flight history as support."

Except that COA's are explicitly for public entities -- private commercial entities can apply only for the experimental licences.
("A Special Airworthiness Certificate in the Experimental Category is the only certification available to civil operators of UAS")
That you can call all of the above "no real regulatory barrier" just shows that on this issue you live in a different world.

Except you're keeping it under 400ft and avoiding other aircraft and claiming to be a hobbiest which is halfway plausible.

Certainly you would have to be an idiot to invest millions in technology that explicitly ignores Advisory Circulars

Millions? For tacocopter? Interesting that you said that considering Napster not only got millions to invest in technology but even went public with lots of lawyers all signing off with a business model that was explicitly illegal! Innovators skirt the old regulations at the margins and challenge regulators to craft new regulations to fit a changing market.

Again tacocopter does not exist because it is not economically viable.

“Napster [...] got millions to invest [...] Innovators skirt the old regulations at the margins and challenge regulators to craft new regulations to fit a changing market. “

How did that work out for Napster?

But at least now you've changed your tune and you're singing the praise of investors willing to break existing regulation. This is progress. It shows that you're aware that your original position that there is “no real regulatory barrier” is indefensible.

“ tacocopter does not exist because it is not economically viable “

This is coming from someone who believes that you don't need millions to start up a tacocopter business. Your position is a mess.

Also, you're aware that people use cars to deliver food, cars that use much more energy on a route than a tacocopter would. Additionally, the people delivering the food are also paid. There are plenty of opportunities for profit.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the FAA explicitly claimed that they hope that PART of the regulatory regime will be ready by 2015.

They EXPLICITLY say that a tacocopter business can not deliver food as of today.

How did that work out for Napster?

Horrible of course. But in terms of innovation how much music is now sold online in digital form versus CD form? Fact is the first to leap are often not the ones survive very long. Google 'Alta Vista', for example.

But at least now you’ve changed your tune and you’re singing the praise of investors willing to break existing regulation

On the edge of innovation regulation is fuzzy to begin with. That's why you have things like an advisory letter. Just like with law some things are black and white and some things remain undecided unless a case arises forcing a decision to be made one way or the other.

This is progress. It shows that you’re aware that your original position that there is “no real regulatory barrier” is indefensible.

Quite the contrary, since regulation is fuzzy at the edges you've just established that you can read regulation in a way to outlaw tacocopters. Unfortunately you can spin language just about any way you want. Your position amounts to asserting unless there's a regulation explicity saying 'there shall be tacocopters!' they are outlawed. To establish your case you need a regulation that clearly prohibits them, not one that may or may not be read to prohibit them.

This is coming from someone who believes that you don’t need millions to start up a tacocopter business. Your position is a mess.

You need one toy copter and some type of GPS device. Probably the best place to start would be with a fixed drop off locations before allowing any location. On the other threads I suggested an auto parts store might be a better starting point. You have a few garages within a short radius, perhaps in an area that suffers traffic jams during the day, a fixed landing area. As the concept works you can expand it and work it into other types of businesses. Once you get it down pat then sell the idea to Taco Bell and let them spend the millions to create a fleet of tacocopters.

Also, you’re aware that people use cars to deliver food, cars that use much more energy on a route than a tacocopter would. Additionally, the people delivering the food are also paid. There are plenty of opportunities for profit.

Not really. True cars and drivers are expensive. But tacos usually sell for pretty cheap. You need a lot of tacos and a car just happens to be able to fit quite a bit of tacos in it. And since drivers get tips you usually don't have to pay them all that much relatively speaking. 'Tacocopter', as depicted, though, would be pretty small and probably not fit to carry more than one or two dozen tacos. Given the fact that flying takes a lot of energy, you're going to need a lot of taco sales and a hefty price per taco.

They EXPLICITLY say that a tacocopter business can not deliver food as of today.

Where?

"To establish your case you need a regulation that clearly prohibits them, not one that may or may not be read to prohibit them.
[...]
'They EXPLICITLY say that a tacocopter business can not deliver food as of today.'

Where?"

You need to work on your reading skills:

"A Special Airworthiness Certificate in the Experimental Category is the only certification available to civil operators of UAS. Due to regulatory requirements, this approval precludes carrying persons or property for compensation or hire, but does allow operations for research and development, market survey, and crew training."

In the above, "civil operators" means non-governmental agencies. Let's read it together then:

1. Civil operators (this includes private businesses) can ONLY get the "Special Airworthiness Certificate in the Experimental Category" (let's call this the SAC-EC)

2. It is the REGULATION (see "Due to regulatory requirements") that a SAC-EC certificate "precludes carrying [...] property for compensation or hire."

Now, a tacocopter business is a civil entity, which caries property for compensation. For someone with functional reading skills this means that by regulation, they can not receive any compensation for their services, hence the regulation explicitly forbids a tacocopter business. QED

"You haven’t produced any clear regulation prohibiting it. "

You're delusional. See my previous posts.

"ask yourself why you don’t see a wheeled version of tacocopter"

Simple: the technology does not exists. We may very well see it in the future (perhaps a combination of a self-driving car with a tacocopter)

That's about it for me -- I'll remember not to trust anything you say in the future.

Now, a tacocopter business is a civil entity, which caries property for compensation

Nope, the delivery of the tacos is free. You are only charged the cost of the taco, getting them to you via tacocopter is just a hobby the owner of the business likes to indulge in.

Really if you're going to talk about innovation you should assume someone inventing a tacocopter will be both a bit daring and a bit creative.

"Nope, the delivery of the tacos is free. You are only charged the cost of the taco, getting them to you via tacocopter is just a hobby the owner of the business likes to indulge in."

That's the lamest defense you've come up with so far. As if there are not already countless cases of the IRS classifying an activity as a business or a hobby using _their own_ criteria, and disregarding what the taxpayers says. As if a transparent attempt at evading the regulations is enough to have people invest serious money into the business.

Even classifying the deliveries of food as a hobby (ridiculous!) you're still not out of the woods, since the advisory circular governing such hobbies says that the hobby should be practiced outside of populated areas.

Just face it, there are significant regulatory barriers to a tacocopter business.

Actually it's usually the other way around. If you do something as a hobby (say paint pictures) you might be able to sell your product but at a loss. It's mighty tempting to tell the IRS this is a 'business' and claim a deduction because year after year you have more in expenses than you do in income. As a rule of thumb the IRS will deem your 'business' a hobby if you book losses year after year.

Note the regulation you cited said to transport 'for hire'. That wouldn't apply to Tacocopter unless I can walk into their office and hire them to, say, 'copter a ring over to my girlfriend's job. Since I can't they are not for hire. I can only hire them to make me tacos.

But you bring up yet another way to accomplish tacocopter without spending millions. Do it as a hobby, perfect the mechanism for delivery and copter's ability to navigate to its destination without slicing people's heads off or slicing up power lines. Then sell the whole package to Tacobell or some other huge company (Fed Ex, even the military). This is in fact how most dot-coms work today. Do up an idea totally for free, no actual business that could make a profit at all and after a while Facebook or Google or Apple will shell out big bucks to incorporate your innovation into their platform.

" As a rule of thumb the IRS will deem your ‘business’ a hobby if you book losses year after year."

The point is that it's not you who declares if something is a hobby or a commercial activity -- the regulatory entities have a say in it. And classifying the transport of paid merchandise as a hobby in a transparent ruse to fool regulators is not likely to go well with those regulators, especially since you would be disobeying the regulators even if the activity would actually be a hobby.

I agree that there are many ways to fund a tacocopter start-up. The problem is that today such a business is also illegal.

To be honest with you I think it's sufficient to note that the tacocopter is not 'for hire' . As for what regulators would do, this is the advantage of the 'fuzzy zone' of regulation where language is not quite clear and it could go either way in its reading. If tacocopter premiers as a wonderfully fun success the more mild reading will probably take hold until more serious efforts are made to set downa sensible regulatory system (which will be necessary as it moves from niche novelilty to business norm). If tacocopter premiers by blowing up a transformer, knocking power out over a 3 block area, and slicing up the faces of innocent bystanders just walking down the street the regulators are probably going to take the harsher reading.

Fact is there's more than enough to get tacocopter off the ground if it was anywhere near economically viable.

" language is not quite clear and it could go either way in its reading."

The language is perfectly clear:
1) A drone business in a populated area is illegal in all categories of regulation.
2) Playing around with toy drones on a farm is perfectly legal.

As for the viability of the business, I didn't see you make any valid argument. I used to order plenty of pizza and Chinese food to my dorm as a student. Why in the world would it be profitable for a person to deliver my food (usually with a car) while at the same time unprofitable to deliver it with a drone? "Tacocopter" is just a catchy name -- you don't have to limit all deliveries to just tacos.

I agree that urban drones need to be regulated. But at the moment, instead of coming up with clear safety and privacy rules that a drone business should obey, the regulators prefer to cover their asses and not allow any type of urban drone.

You haven't produced any clear regulation prohibiting it. You've claimed that the regulation isn't friendly enough to trust a multi-million dollar investment, but as I pointed out there's probably a dozen ways to get tacocopter without any such huge investment.

As for the viability of the business, I didn’t see you make any valid argument. I used to order plenty of pizza and Chinese food to my dorm as a student. Why in the world would it be profitable for a person to deliver my food (usually with a car) while at the same time unprofitable to deliver it with a drone? “Tacocopter” is just a catchy name — you don’t have to limit all deliveries to just tacos.

Went thru this before. The profit margin on your food order is low. The energy expenditure on flying is very, very high. Yes the car is big and has a driver but it can easily carry more than one order.

If it was economically viable, wouldn't you see it in cases where the profit margin per order delievered is higher and the cost of road use is also higher and there's no heavy regulatory agency? Consider the trade in jewelry and precious metals in Iraq, for example, where you don't have as good a road system as the US (and lots of criminals on the roads) and very little in the way of gov't regulation (and a culture that winks at ignoring the law anyway....provided you're not causing a problem). Or for that matter the illegal market. It seems to me a tacocopter bringing a kilo of cocaine over the border from Mexico would have a much higher profit margin than trying to sell tacos for $1.25 each.

To nail the economically viable coffin shut, just ask yourself why you don't see a wheeled version of tacocopter? Consider those robots you see in hospitals that drive from wing to wing to deliever medicines to the nurses stations.

A wheeled tacoscooter would:

1. Be small enough to be legal on the side walks. No messy dealing with DMV to use on streets.

2. Could carry and dispense multiple taco orders, as well as heavier items like sodas. It can also carry something to scan and accept cash as well as credit card payments.

3. Would use much less energy

4. probably easier to program and navigate given 2-dimensional movement is simplier than 3-d movement.

5. Would avoid a huge chunck of regulatory issues that cars and planes have to deal with.

Or where is tacocoper in the rest of the world? Consider a place like Iraq where many roads are in poor shape and using them is risky. Also regulation is either not there or its culturally acceptable to break the law if you're not causing anyone trouble. Consider delievery of items with a higher profit margin than silly tacos (i.e. gold and dimonds between jewelers, important documents between businesses).

“You haven’t produced any clear regulation prohibiting it. ”

You’re delusional. See my previous posts.

“ask yourself why you don’t see a wheeled version of tacocopter”

Simple: the technology does not exists. We may very well see it in the future (perhaps a combination of a self-driving car with a tacocopter)

That’s about it for me — I’ll remember not to trust anything you say in the future.

Simple: the technology does not exists. We may very well see it in the future (perhaps a combination of a self-driving car with a tacocopter)

The technology does not exist? We are talking about essentially a toy car attached to a smartphone w/gps mapping! We already have robot vacuum cleaners doing something very much like that as well as robots in hospitals! Amazing. Yet tacocopter tech exists, which requires technology to navigate in 3-dimensions and in the form of a helicopter...a much more challenging and unstable type of flight than a plane exists! Amazing.

Why do we need legislation to authorize the use of driverless cars on the road? Why isn't the default rule a different one, in which such vehicles are allowed unless prohibited by law?

Exactly.
I am hopeful at the margin.
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hxfXb8uzhbYAUOR6b70Ymt8SGAHw

'Why do we need legislation to authorize the use of driverless cars on the road?'
Because the driver is the legal point - and someone sitting alone in a moving car who is not in control of that vehicle is already breaking a number of laws as currently written. Reasonably, one might add - imagine a driver today attempting to plead that an accident wasn't their fault because they were surfing the web instead of actually controlling their vehicle.

New situations require new laws - and as with everything new, mistakes will be made as part of the learning process.

That does appear to be the default. Google's cars racked up thousnds of road miles in California and Nevada already, even got into a minor accident in California when it was rear-ended at a stoplight.

"imagine a driver today attempting to plead that an accident wasn’t their fault because they were surfing the web instead of actually controlling their vehicle."

How fundamentally different is this from riding a cab?

If your laws are so specific to not allow new situations that are fundamentally the same as existing situations then the laws are wrong.

So, let's say a robocar has an accident and...gasp!...it is in fact at fault.

All of a sudden it is just one of what, a hundred-thousand or a million or more wrecks pending legal determinations?

So, it goes to court. What is the big deal, really?

But somehow robocars seem really weird and different, so we pretend everything has to be worked out perfectly beforehand even though we still have legal wrangles over wrecks that happen every single day.

For me, at least, it's about incentives. Someone driving a car has a large personal stake in driving safely and avoiding accidents. This makes me feel safer. May not be true that I am safer but at least they have a personal investment in the quality of their driving. Someone who builds a robotic car has at most a financial incentive. If they have a lot of money to begin with their level of risk aversion is lower.

When someone tells me that there is no way the horribles that I come up with could happen with their idea (for new government powers for example) I like to counter with an addition to their idea. Specifically I like to suggest something absurd, like they get cut in half if the downside comes to pass. No one ever agrees with such suggestions even though they continue to insist that nothing bad could come from their idea.

So in order to bring the incentives back in line, I'd suggest that the people sponsoring/producing/designing these cars, including both the engineers and executives, be given a wonderful opportunity to jump off a 50' tower with a 60' bungee when their vehicle is found to be at fault in an accident. The height can be adjusted depending on the severity of the accident.

Reminds me of the old saw about the easiest way to make driving extremely safe is to require 6 inch steel spikes installed in all steering wheels pointed at the throat of the driver. Everyone would be a heck of a lot more careful then.

It seems pretty clear why it's fundamentally different. You are a passenger in the cab and the driver controls it hence he is responsible. I suppose you begin to assume responsibility if, say, you gave the cab driver a few shots of Jack Daniels or if you took control of his brain using some type of chip implant, but that's pretty different.

If your driverless car is taken over by a hacker, it would seem to be the hacker's responsibility but suppose you left the car 'exposed'? While you didn't intend for the hacker to seize control, you could make the case you're responsible for the damage he does.

If you want an analogy consider a person who leaves their car parked with the keys in the ignition and some kid comes along, steals it and plows it into someone's house. The law would probably hold the kid accountable but the kid has to steal the car in real space, in real time putting his body at risk of arrest or injury. A person who chooses 'welcome' as the password to his driverless car is leaving it open to a terrorist in Afghanistan seizing control of it from the safety of an Internet cafe.

In the future, this will be seen as an early victory in the movement for Robot Civil Rights.

In the same sense that the arrival of the first slaves in North America is seen as an early victory in the movement for black civil rights?

Now THAT's a contrarian take!

How about the arrival of the first rickshaws in Japan? That's what the driverless car is -- a robot rickshaw. Oh, those poor robots.

It's a robot chauffeur.

Oh, those poor engines.

Why is it that the phrase "There is no great stagnation" is reserved for gag items (eg, "Japanese invent a box that can simulate a kiss over the Internet", "You can now get rolls of toilet paper especially printed with the Twitter feed of your choice", etc), but for this we get a simple prosaic title?

Confirmation bias.

Google can't think of anything better to do than robocars.

It will be nice, but these aren't flying cars, and it's not a useable Googledocs for telecommuting.

This should be titled "No TGS" for the same reason as panties from vending machines.

So you think robocars will be just a gag item, akin to panties from vending machines. I think that's completely wrong. Robocars will revolutionize transportation.

I'm sympathetic with the great stagnation thesis, but this is a real innovation. Don't want to count chickens before the eggs are hatched, but if this works it could free up commuters time, lower housing costs (by making longer commutes less onerous), make mobile business and mobile office concepts more workable/cheaper/less marginal (this is a big one--if plumbers could be doing their paperwork or making small repairs while driving, they'd save a huge amount of time), reduce accidents, reduce drive times, and allow denser highway uses.

That may not all pan out, of course. I could envision the core concept working (the car drives itself, the driver doesn't have to pay attention) while some of the ancillary benefits like fewer accidents or denser highways don't. But some of the benefits are inherent. I'm especially excited by the significantly reduced costs for mobile businesses. That could change all sorts of things in ways that we can't predict.

Somehow "driverless car" and "Jerry Brown" seem redundant.

Anyone who believes anything should get in the way of tacocopters really has no place in this country. Anti-capitalists ought to be afraid we'll throw them out.

Yes, nothing says progress like California. Just compare the dreariness of early 60s Jan and Dean/Beach Boys/Beach Blanket Bingo California to the vibrant Brazillian paradise of today. March on, soldiers of progress.

Comments for this post are closed