There’s a rush by the world’s largest companies to develop the first fully self driving car. The investment so far has been insane and it’s only the start. It’s one of those problems that get more and more difficult to solve the closer they are to the finish. The upside is so large that it also leads to some perverse behavior in order to get any advantage - the Uber/Waymo lawsuit comes to mind here.

The space is competitive and everyone has an incentive to be first. At the same time the sooner we have self driving cars the more lives are saved. That’s a big reason for the worlds’ governments to encourage self driving technology to improve as quickly as possible. Something that I’ve been pondering is the idea of using prizes instead of patents to encourage innovation. This is an idea attributed to Joseph Stiglitz and focuses on incentivizing research areas where patents don’t offer a good enough incentive. The self driving car space doesn’t have this incentive problem but the playing field isn’t level and it’s big company competing against big company. What if governments offered prize money for various stages of self driving car achievement but in return the winners needed to share their data?

Governments allow these cars to drive on public roads but in return I’d love to see governments mandate that these companies start sharing their data. This would allow lower resourced companies to benefit and get a jump start without the massive initial outlay necessary. There should be an advantage for the first comers so the data release can be delayed but having a shared data reserve will help society as a whole get to self driving cars sooner - a goal worth paying for.

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