The drive for innovation often hits speed bumps

Federal legislation has provided a lift for a fledgling EV era. But it has not done the same for autonomous vehicles. The lack of legislative attention, some say, has stymied the widespread adoption of self-driving technology.

Congress has failed to pass multiple iterations of proposed laws that would create a national framework for AV regulations. Efforts to pass such legislation have faded under the current administration, said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association, which owns and operates CES.

“We’re falling behind other countries,” he said. “The U.S. is not perceived as a friendly country for self-driving now.”

During the past decade, he said, the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations have provided support for general technology advancements and, more specifically, artificial intelligence. But now, “the Biden administration does not seem to have an appetite for self-driving.”



Beyond self-driving policy, robotaxis have their own share of problems.

They felt the brunt of industry headwinds in 2022, none more than Argo AI, which shuttered in October. Just over two months later, the closing of a company once considered a front-runner remains a stunning event in the AV realm. Questions about the viability of robotaxis cropped up at many automation-related events here.

Much like innovation may be a function of time, however, the impact of any short-term shocks might diminish with longer-term perspective.

Self-driving tech company Waymo’s CES display encapsulated this sentiment. The company lined up every vehicle model it has developed during the past decade in the parking lot of the Las Vegas Convention Center, from the formative Firefly to the Zeekr robotaxi unveiled in Los Angeles late last year. The vehicles also included the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan, Jaguar I-Pace and Class 8 truck.

YJ Ahn, Waymo’s head of design for the development of all five, looked out at the fleet last week. Sometimes, she said, the pace of progress can seem incremental. But taken as a whole, the innovation was undeniable.

“That’s the beauty of it,” she said. “You’re seeing there’s a lot of innovation going on. People just forget it. But when you look at it over the past 10 years like this, we came a long way.”

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