If you look at the cars we have, they're all of course different but they have a lot of really profound similarities. You almost always turn a key in the ignition. You have your gas pedal and your break, and you push them both with your right foot. You steer them with a wheel. There's a spedometer and a fuel indicator in more-or-less the same place. They use mirrors so you can see where you're going without constantly turning your head. Would it be a better world if for twenty years someone had held a patent on a Using Mirrors To Allow Drivers To See Behind Them Without Turning Their Head? I say, no. Absent the inability of new entrants into the automobile market to copy some of the basic concepts of what a usable car looks like, we would have had much less competition and much less innovation around the real cutting edge of the automobile industry.
This was not the most interesting thing that was on Moneybox today, but it fit really well into an an evolving theme that we have been seeing recently about how the patent industry is formalizing rent-seeking. This cannot be good in the long run.
Now, it is true that I think that the driverless car is an over-rated concept. Like the jetpack, it is a neat idea that has a lot of very difficult implementation issues. In the case of the driverless car, the main issues, in my opinion, are rethinking the complex web of liability we have constructed around vehicles and smoothly integrating them into mixed use roadways.
The risk of bicycle commuting has been an extremely favorable development, despite the occasional tension between cars and bikers. But I wonder if driverless cars will be able to handle treating cyclists as other vehicles or might the smaller profile of the bike make it harder for the car to account for them? The same concerns come up with pedestrians, especially in large cities.