Last Monday, the Obama Administration released a hundred-and-twelve-page policy tome, "Federal Automated Vehicles Policy," which, despite its sleep-inducing title, found an eager readership. The document contained long-awaited regulatory guidance on self-driving cars--a concept that has gone from sci-fi fantasy to legitimate industry in just a few short years. The official reaction from manufacturers has been muted. Nonetheless, the internal reaction was likely relief. Without federal recognition and regulatory authority, the autonomous-vehicle industry exists in legal limbo.
On the evening of March 31st, Elon Musk unveiled Tesla's sinuous Model 3, the company's first "affordable" electric-car model. After touting the sedan's punchy acceleration, two-hundred-and-fifteen-mile battery range, and sweeping, seamless glass roof, he mentioned its base price of thirty-five thousand dollars and told the audience that prospective buyers had already reserved more than a hundred and fifteen thousand of the vehicles, to rapturous applause and shouts of "You did it!" Not one to miss a marketing trick, Musk capped the night on Twitter, with a cryptic thank-you message that promised more: "Thanks for tuning in to the Model 3 unveil Part 1! Part 2 is super next level, but that's for later . . . Within hours, the tech community was awash in speculation about what more Tesla could have in store for the Model 3. Some wondered, specifically, whether it would be the world's first mass-market, fully autonomous self-driving car. Spurred forward by Google and other Silicon Valley companies, the auto industry has been tinkering with autonomous vehicles for years.