Friday, October 16, 2015

Well, this looks interesting

I want to be careful not to get ahead of myself on this -- still waiting for some good, solid reporting before I get too confident -- but, assuming things are as they appear, here are a few quick thoughts, some or all of which may have to be retracted as I learn more.

The story of SpaceX has always been as much or more innovation through disruption than innovation through technological advances. (And yes, this is one case where I actually do buy the beneficial disruption narrative.) They took tech that had been sitting on the shelves of a sclerotic industry for years and literally got it off the ground. I'd argue that the auto industry is relatively responsive and fast moving compared to aerospace, but Musk still seems to have managed to do something similar here, partially I suspect by requiring less testing than companies like Volvo, GM, Mercedes-Benz.

Still, this is a very cool development, particularly in terms of data. Tesla has always had a progressive approach with intellectual property. If this liberal attitude extends to sharing data...

This should (but won't) cut the head off of the myth of the regulatory monster holding back all progress on autonomous vehicles. We can all ignore the obvious fig leaf of "advising drivers to keep their hands on the wheel." There will be hands-free driving (check out the video) and there will be accidents (though probably fewer than there would have been without the technology). If Tesla didn't feel they had a handle on the regulatory and liability issues, they wouldn't have rolled out the system.

This should also make people rethink Google's role in the narrative. Tesla's approach appears to be entirely different (Musk doesn't even have plans to use LIDAR for his cars in the future). Even the companies that are using a more similar approach appear to be advancing on their own faster than Google.

Of course, Mountain View is filled smart people and a tremendous amount of great innovation and research flow from the company, but its "leadership" in the field of autonomous vehicles has always had as much to do with PR as with engineering.

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