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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impactnow   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/28/2014 12:51:47 PM
safety and fear
This is an area the regulations are definitely needed one small issue could cause major traffic problems at best , and potential fatalities at worst. Well it sounds really cool and useful for many who cannot drive I think they're too many issues it to truly become a reality. I'm not looking forward to the Amazon drones if they ever materialize and this would even be more frightening!
Anand   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/28/2014 11:48:36 AM
Re: What the IoT Needs: More Laws
An example of automated systems is a self-driving cars which are programmed to communicate with one another in order to function well. Smart thermostats were also created using the same concept.

The automated systems need to be tested to avoid human loss in the transportation sector and need to also be dependant on human supervision partly. Government can provide clarity on IoT devices without restricting their efficient operation.
David Wagner   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/27/2014 6:58:17 PM
Re: Driverless Trains
I was wondering why Google isn't pursuing the idea of driverless trains, first. There is already some experience with them. For instance, there is a long list of driverless trains (that is, intentionally driverless, with computer control):

I assume that it is because there are billions of cars and thousands of trains.
David Wagner   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/27/2014 6:55:46 PM
Re: Maybe the car could drive away while we stay home
Collision avoidance in the air is extremely simple: radar reads proximity and warns when proximity is too great. Driving a car is different: will an AI realize that the group of children throwing a ball nearby means there is a chance a child will suddenly come running into traffic, and that the vehicle should be slowed down while coasting through the danger zone? I don't think so.

I disagree Rich. For in thing, you're talking slower speeds and two dimensions. Yes you add the element of pedestrians, but you also add the reaction time of a computer instead of a car. There's no reason radar could monitor pedestrians. Sure you won't get it exactly right, but the car can be aware of everything. If a kid jumped out in front of me, I might be in a situation where I can't stop in time, but I could swerve a certain direction. But I might not be aware of that open space. An automated care will know what is in every lane and where the safe place to turn is.

David Wagner   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/27/2014 6:51:38 PM
Re: Maybe the car could drive away while we stay home
@progman- We've seen it go the other way, too, though with humans intervening when technology hasn't worked. Probably the truth is that we will always want some combo of human and computer safety equipment. But let's face it, one thing is a highly trained pilot, another is your average Joe Schmoe driver. How often is a computer likely to get somehting wrong that I can get right?
David Wagner   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/27/2014 6:48:20 PM
Re: Your car could tell your employer you visited a rival company
@rich- That's when you send your car on a diversionary run and borrow a friend's car to go to your interview. We all know the future is going to require us all to think like Tom Cruise. :)
David Wagner   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/27/2014 6:46:12 PM
Re: Maybe the car could drive away while we stay home
Rich- You are right. Fictional computers break in every movie. :) I mean, seriously, who would ever get in the Star Trek transporter?

I think we can handle this, but I am not crazy enough to do it without years of testing. Which is exactly why I like California make real-world tests easier without going overbaord.
David Wagner   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/27/2014 6:43:49 PM
Re: Maybe the car could drive away while we stay home
@nomi- The issue at hand is to weigh a person's malfunctions against a computer's, right?. People screw up a lot, but they tend not to realize because they get lucky and don't hit something. For instance, yesterday I realized that I spent way too long finding a radio station and nearly rear-ended a stopped car. A near-fatal error, but one I'm likely to forget in a few days. I got lucky. I make errors I don't even see every time I hit the road.

The only errors automated cars are likely to make are the ones that cause accidents. So we will mistakenly count our accidents against computer accients, when we should be counting computer accidents against all the lucky near misses we also had.
Nomi   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/27/2014 3:12:48 PM
Re: Proactive
@kstaron just for a thought if smart cars just become too smart too handle. Do you think there should be a mechanism to control the smartness with sheer force  :)
Nomi   What the IoT Needs: More Laws   5/27/2014 3:09:51 PM
Re: Maybe the car could drive away while we stay home
@Stotheco thanks alot. Safety is foremost and paramount in all situations. But I also believe to do something out of the blues we need to take a bit of risk as well. So we need to understand and draw a line where we think its just right otherwise taking a bit more will eventually cost you dearly.
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