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FMG Law Blog Line

Posts Tagged ‘driverless’

Waymo v. Uber – Addressing the Stakes of Driverless Car Trade Secrets and Intellectual Property

Posted on: February 12th, 2018

By: Courtney K. Mazzio

The litigation surrounded a man named Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo employee who took thousands of documents with him when he left Waymo in 2015 to pursue his own company. Uber purchased Levandowski’s company, giving Levandowski the lead role in its efforts to get their self-driving vehicle technology off the ground. At issue in the lawsuit between Uber and Waymo was the lidar laser sensor, which Levandowski had helped develop while at Waymo. In short, this technology measures distance to a target, and so, is used in the control and navigation of self-driving cars. As you might imagine, this technology in the infancy of the driverless car development was a highly coveted piece of intellectual property.

Settlement talks were initially in the billions, but the final figure was 245 million, or 0.34 percent of Uber’s current company valuation. The agreement also includes a provision to insure Waymo’s confidential information is not incorporated into Uber technology.

This settlement not only protects Uber’s driverless car momentum in their race to be the first taxi service to successfully utilize the technology at a relatively cheap price, but also maintains Waymo’s position at the forefront of the self-driving technology. To insure this position enjoys longevity, employees of Waymo can expect they will likely be tightening its control and security over confidential information and property developed within its walls.

If you have any questions or would like some more information, please contact Courtney Mazzio at [email protected].

Driverless Motor Vehicle Lawsuit – The First of its Kind

Posted on: February 7th, 2018

By: Courtney K. Mazzio

General Motors is the first manufacturer to be hit with a driverless motor vehicle lawsuit. On December 7, motorcycle driver, Oscar Nilsson, alleges he was attempting to pass a self-automated Chevy Bolt on the right. The Bolt had indicated it was moving into the left hand lane, and according to Nilsson, when the coast was clear, he proceeded in his attempt to pass the Bolt. It was at that point the Bolt swerved back into Nilsson’s lane, knocking Nilsson over. Nilsson did walk to the side of the road, but was complaining of neck and shoulder injuries, which he allegedly treated for extensively and which required him to take disability leave from his job.

However, GM paints quite a different picture, detailing that the self-driving car attempted to merge into the left lane. However, the minivan ahead of it slowed down, and so the self-driving car abandoned the merge attempt. GM maintains it was as the self-driving car was attempting to center itself in the middle lane once again that Nilsson attempted to pass between the self-driving vehicle and a vehicle in the right lane. As he was attempting to make that pass, he hit the side of the self-driving vehicle. Notably, GM reported the self-driving car was keeping with traffic at its speed of 12 miles per hour while the motorcycle was traveling 17 miles per hour, which if proven, could be useful for them in mitigating liability They have also represented that the police report also maintains the company is at fault.

In the analysis swirling around driverless car technology and anticipated lawsuits sure to crop up, there is anticipation that car manufacturers will take the tack of either resolving swiftly when liability is poor or fighting tooth and nail when liability is questionable. The technology of the driverless vehicle no doubt affords car manufacturers the ability to be a bit more dichotomous. We will have to wait and see how this one pans out.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Courtney Mazzio at [email protected].

Look Mom, No Hands!

Posted on: January 24th, 2018

By: Seth F. Kirby

On January 22, 2018 a Tesla Model S slammed into a parked fire truck on California’s 405 near Culver City.  The driver of the Tesla stated that prior to the accident he had the car’s autopilot system engaged.  This is just the most recent in a series of accidents in which Tesla’s autopilot system has been implicated.   At present, Tesla’s autopilot system is limited to what it refers to as Traffic-Aware Cruise Control.  This feature, which is also provided by other car manufactures, allows the car to maintain a lane and speed up or slow down depending upon traffic conditions.  The system relies upon driver input to observe and avoid stationary objects, which may be the true culprit that resulted in the recent crash.  Interestingly, all Teslas are equipped to function autonomously, taking its passengers to a destination with no human interaction.  Such features are not yet enabled due to the need to obtain regulatory approval, and the features of the current systems have been changed several times to encourage drivers to be attentive when behind the wheel (i.e. requiring the driver to maintain their hands on the wheel).

The advent of various levels of autonomous driving presents challenges and opportunities for the insurance industry.  Theoretically, the implementation of autonomous vehicles over the next decade or longer will result in fewer accidents and injuries as computers will be more reliable and predictable drivers.  Of course, machines can have errors, and on the road at 60+ mph, errors can have drastic consequences.  This begs the question.  As vehicles become autonomous, who will the auto carrier be insuring?  The easy answer is that the policy is issued to the individual that owns the car, so clearly the carrier is insuring the individual for their potential liability. In many states, however, the insurance “follows the car” and covers bodily injury and property damage arising from the use of the vehicle no matter who (or what) is operating the vehicle.  If the autonomous car makes a mistake, the law presently considers the human driver to be responsible for the vehicle’s operation and the liability is placed on the driver.  That seems reasonable in our present environment in which driver interaction is required for the system to operate.  It may seem less reasonable once the systems become fully automatic.  At that point, the individual’s carrier is essentially insuring the machine and its software, effectively turning auto liability policies into product liability policies.

In the short term, the transition between human and computer controlled driving presents problems as it can lull the driver into a false sense of safety.  It appears that when the driver has less interaction with the driving process their attention wanes and they may fail to avoid obvious hazards.  This is no different than the problems caused by other forms of distracted driving (texting, eating, tuning the radio), it is just a new dynamic that is being added to the roadway.  Eventually, the human element may be removed from the equation, but whether that will result in a net improvement in vehicle safety remains to be seen.  I fully suspect that many aspects of auto liability insurance will need to evolve as technology begins to take over the wheel.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Seth Kirby at [email protected].

Self-Driving Vehicles and their Anticipated Impacts

Posted on: January 9th, 2018

By: Courtney Mazzio

Self-driving vehicles are quickly bursting onto the scene and federal regulatory bodies are ever-evolving policies with an effort caught in a tug of war between accelerating the development of the technology and encouraging safety. In September 2016 under the Obama administration, a policy addressing the development of self-driving vehicles was generated by the Department of Transportation, with its primary focus being safe development with some wiggle room for regulations to keep pace with the fast development of the technology. Currently, this policy is being re-worked, and the new guidelines scale back some of the recommendations previously made. For example, the new guidelines provide that manufacturers are encouraged, but not required, to engage in self-assessments, which will not be subject to federal approval. Thus, there is some concern that non-binding changes such as these could result in conflicting state laws.

Of further note is the conversation of whether and how the self-driving vehicle will mesh with pre-existing mandates on automobile safety standards. While Congress is starting to consider federal legislation that will regulate the roll out of self-driving vehicle systems, this is only the beginning. Right now, the development of the self-driving vehicle technology and use is only as limitless as the current infrastructure designed to regulate human-operated motor vehicles.

With so much in flux, one thing is for certain: the advent of the driverless car system is sure to dramatically change the landscape of driving regulations and motor vehicle liability in the years to come. Rather than actions that resound in negligence, actions will begin to take on the character of products liability. And rather than litigation in which the operator of the vehicle is the primary, if not only defendant, such litigation will involve vehicle designers and manufacturers responsible for the vehicle’s creation and defects. Trying to determine where liability ultimately lies in such actions is something that courts will certainly grapple with in this new age.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Courtney Mazzio at [email protected].

UPS Orders Tesla Electric Big Rigs – One Step Closer to Driverless Semis

Posted on: December 22nd, 2017

By: Wayne S. Melnick

Last month, Tesla Motors announced that it was taking its electronic vehicle technology one step further with the unveiling of the Electric Semi Truck .  If the numbers are to be believed, the Tesla Semi not only achieves 0-60 in five seconds (unloaded) by also reduces the cost of shipping from $1.51/mile to $1.26/mile.

Earlier this week, United Parcel Service announced it was going all-in on the Tesla Semi ordering 125 of the new units.   At an estimated cost between $150,000-$200,000/unit, that order could be worth as much as $25M.  (Yes, 25 Million Dollars).  If you’ve been following this story, this is not the end of the line, but rather, just the beginning. With that big an investment, it is clear that UPS and Tesla have their eyes on the future.  Electronic Trucks are just the first steps towards what is expected to the ultimate goal: Driverless Semis.

We will continue to keep watch of developments of this technology.  Needless to say, the idea of Driverless Semis raises all sorts of legal and insurance questions.  As such, it is important to stay on top of developments and FMG will continue to keep you informed as they occur.

If you have any questions or would like further information, please contact Wayne Melnick at [email protected].