What the IoT Needs: More Laws

David Wagner, Managing Editor | 5/22/2014 | 47 comments

David Wagner
It is a rare thing when you find me advocating for the government to get more involved in regulating technology, but when it comes to the Internet of Things, that is what I'm advocating. It isn't that I want officials to tell us what we can't do. In this case, I want them to tell us what we can. And California is taking the lead with new regulations around self-driving cars.

Now, self-driving cars won't necessarily be the first step in the IoT, because of their expense and complexity, but they are likely to be one of the most important. It is cute enough to make a smart thermostat as a proof of concept, but the real promise of the IoT will be here with self-driving cars.

These vehicles will need to communicate with one another and the world around them to work. In a fleet, self-driving cars can drive an inch apart at highway speeds, because they communicate about one another's movements. If one needs to apply the brakes, all cars near it can do so at the same time and with the same amount of pressure to avoid accidents. If one needs to change lanes to make a turn, the others can subtly adjust to make room. If a sudden burst of cars approaches an intersection, they can communicate to the traffic light, so it can manage the intersection better. Self-driving cars will need to talk to parking lots to find spaces and pay for parking. And they need to communicate with people to know where to pick them up and when they’ll be needed again. In other words, the network required to move a few million cars around the country with no people intervening makes most of the rest of the IoT seem like child's play.

This is why I'm excited that the state of California just decided to regulate self-driving cars. There's no need to regulate the smart thermostats (yet), but to get the real work going on the IoT, we need to start laying some groundwork for what's allowed.

Depending on your interpretation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rules, either no self-driving cars are allowed, or all self-driving cars are allowed. That's because there are absolutely no rules governing them at all. The federal government is "years away, years away, from developing regulations for autonomous vehicles," Bernard Soriano, deputy director of the California DMV, told the Atlantic.

So California decided to take matters into its own hands and help bring clarity to the industry without ruining it. A 2012 bill requiring the DMV to come up with regulations said, "The State of California, which presently does not prohibit or specifically regulate the operation of autonomous vehicles, desires to encourage the current and future development, testing, and operation of autonomous vehicles on the public roads of the state."

To that end, the DMV has come up with a relatively easy set of rules. Companies only have to pay $150 for an application fee (less than it costs to register a car) and carry a $5 million insurance policy (not all that different from the average car insurance policy, give or take a few million in liability). For this, they can operate as many as 10 vehicles with up to 20 "drivers."

Eventually, it is assumed that car companies will need bigger test groups, but for now that seems like an amazingly small hurdle for them to jump while they are perfecting the technology. Given the desire not to hinder the development of the product (which would obviously be great for California's economy), you can assume the rules will grow with the needs of the companies.

Not all IoT products need regulations just to be made possible, but where new areas of autonomous decision making, security, or liability are involved, governments could help move the IoT closer to reality by providing points of clarity on what is possible without restricting the effort.

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Rich Krajewski   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/22/2014 10:53:22 PM
Link to Artilce 3.7
Here's a link to Article 3.7, Autonomous Vehicles:

Rich Krajewski   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/22/2014 11:38:55 PM
Maybe the car could drive away while we stay home
This reminds me of when it was seriously proposed by car, locomotive, and airplane engineers that we could have nuclear powered vehicles (see the Ford Nucleon car, the X-12 locomotive, and the XB-36H bomber).

Nuclear-Powered Vehicle Concepts from the Mid-20th Century

Ford Nucleon, with giant standing next to it.

X-12 nuclear loco.


Nuclear-Powered Vehicle Concepts from the Mid-20th Century

XB-36H "Crusader," a nuclear-powered aircraft that actually flew, with 12 tons of lead and rubber shielding to keep the crew from dying before they landed.


Why does the autonomous car remind me of these things? Well, looking at the Atlantic article mentioned in David Wagner's blog, I see that regulators are worried about what will happen after AI failures. Suddenly, the passenger, who may be deep in reading a catalog of burial plots, is going to have to take over the vehicle after an AI "disengagement." There may be no warning. In other words, these cars could involve novel, intrinsic dangers that society may not be willing to bear, the same way that nuclear powered vechicles represented inherent danger (though the prospect of not needing a fill-up for 20 years was probably as alluring as having a car that drives itself).

Maybe we could combine nuclear power with autonomous navigation. Then the cars could drive forever by themselves and we could just stay home.
ProgMan   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/23/2014 6:41:27 AM
Re: Maybe the car could drive away while we stay home
Yeah, I share the AI-failure fear that these regulators have.  I have to think most of the car driving population shares that fear.  Although this could be a glimpse of what transportation will look like 25 years from now - I'm not sure if that fear is akin to people who once thought the Earth is flat...
SunitaT   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/23/2014 8:59:33 AM
Re: Maybe the car could drive away while we stay home
Everyone would love the idea of a self driving car. We could just sit there and the car drives us to where we want to go with ease. Life would be made much simpler for everyone. The fact that there is a proof of concept actually functioning is a plus. The self driving cars will be safe because they can coordinate with each other and avoid any accidents from happening. The only worrying thing is how much control we have over them. Might they just drive off by themselves if we are at home asleep?
SunitaT   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/23/2014 9:13:25 AM
Re : What the IoT Needs: More Laws
The idea of coming up with self driving cars is the most brilliant! Even though such cars will not mark the first IoT step, they will be of much Importance. It is high time we realized that all the IoT products must not be regulated for them to be made possible. The government should take a step and make the IoT a reality. The only way of doing this is by providing clear points on what can possibly be done without having to restrict the efforts.
ProgMan   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/23/2014 9:14:53 AM
Re: Maybe the car could drive away while we stay home
I have to admit, with people talking on the phone, texting, reading the paper, etc while driving, I could probably warm up to the idea of the self driving car.

Also, with all the near misses with airplanes lately, I have to think that nearly automated air traffic control is not far off either...
Pedro Gonzales   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/23/2014 10:32:50 AM
Re: Maybe the car could drive away while we stay home
I agree. In the U.S, many people die becuase of car accidents.  Self driving cars would make an impact in minimizing this problem.  Sometimes when I walk down the street, I see people eating while driving or talking on their cell phone while driving.  They are putting their lives and others at risk when doing this.  
David Wagner   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/23/2014 1:01:40 PM
Re: Maybe the car could drive away while we stay home
@Rich- I'm sure the exact same thing happened when someone suggested autopilot for airplanes. If a computer cna land the space shuttle, we can learn to handle this.
David Wagner   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/23/2014 1:02:52 PM
Re: Maybe the car could drive away while we stay home
@Pedro- I'm sure there will still be accidents. Probably most will involve a person surprising a computer by doing something dumb. But I think we can avoid a lot of the accidents for dumb reasons like distractions.
Nomi   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/23/2014 1:47:37 PM
Re: Maybe the car could drive away while we stay home
@Progman I absolutely share your point of view. I am pretty sure that world will not look the same 3 generations from now. But still I have my doubts that nuclear capable equipment will be used in daily routine with that ease. I feel hat hazardious affects will keep it away from masses for quite some time to come. I am not seeing it being used as a main resource for forseeable future.
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