Driverless Seattle: How Cities Can Prepare for Automated Vehicles


Driverless Seattle: How Cities Can Plan for Automated Vehicles,” is a new report from the Tech Policy Lab at the University of Washington, put together in partnership with Challenge Seattle, a private sector initiative led by regional CEOs, and the Mobility Innovation Center at the University of Washington.

The advent of automated vehicles (AVs)—also known as driverless or self-driving cars—alters many assumptions about automotive travel. Foremost, of course, is the assumption that a vehicle requires a driver: a human occupant who controls the direction and speed of the vehicle, who is responsible for attentively monitoring the vehicle’s environment, and who is liable for most accidents involving the vehicle. By changing these and other fundamentals of transportation, AV technologies present opportunities but also challenges for policymakers across a wide range of legal and policy areas. To address these challenges, federal and state governments are already developing regulations and guidelines for AVs.

Seattle and other municipalities should also prepare for the introduction and adoption of these new technologies. To facilitate preparation for AVs at the municipal level, this whitepaper—the result of research conducted at the University of Washington’s interdisciplinary Tech Policy Lab—identifies the major legal and policy issues that Seattle and similar cities will need to consider in light of new AV technologies. Our key findings and recommendations include:

1. There is no single “self-driving car.” Instead, AVs vary in the extent to which they complement or replace human driving: AVs may automate particular driving functions (e.g., parallel parking), may navigate autonomously only in certain driving scenarios (e.g., on the freeway), or may allow the driver to switch in and out of autonomous mode at will. In some instances, a lead driver may control a platoon of connected vehicles without drivers. We recommend that policymakers recognize the variability in AV technology and employ terms—such as the Society of Automotive Engineer’s six-level AV taxonomy, discussed below—that accurately capture the benefits and constraints of particular AV models.

2. The AV regulatory environment is still developing. AVs are currently legal in Washington state, but AVs could be subject to a variety of new federal and state guidelines and regulations, and municipalities will need to be aware of these developments and the potential preemption of local action. However, municipalities possess their own, varied means by which to channel AVs, including government services powers, proprietary services powers, corporate powers, and police powers.

3. AVs raise legal and policy issues across several domains, including challenges to transportation planning, infrastructure development, municipal budgeting, insurance, and police and emergency services. Some of these challenges result from the extent to which existing laws and policies assume a particular configuration of automotive technology. Regulations that presume a human driver capable of managing the vehicle, for example, may limit the potential benefits of AVs for populations with special mobility constraints (e.g., those with disabilities). Other challenges will likely arise from new policies and procedures developed in response to AVs. For example, methods of revenue generation developed in response to AVs may inequitably shift revenue burdens onto drivers unable to afford an AV.

4. The adoption of AVs is likely to be a gradual and geographically uneven process. While some benefits of AVs are likely to be realized as soon as the vehicles reach the road (e.g., improvements to traffic safety) other potential benefits (e.g., reduced traffic congestion) may not be realized until AVs are dominant on a region’s roadways. Consequently, the transition from traditional vehicles to AVs will likely generate significant, staged policy challenges over time. We recommend that policymakers focus on planning for scenarios that involve both AVs and human-driven vehicles on roadways through at least 2050.

5. AV technologies and policies are likely to have significant impacts on stakeholder groups traditionally underrepresented in the policymaking process (e.g., socioeconomically disadvantaged communities), and will consequently raise challenges for social equity. We recommend that policymakers engage in diverse stakeholder analysis to assess not only the impacts of AVs, but also the impacts of proposed policy responses to AVs.


Driverless Seattle: How Cities Can Plan for Automated Vehicles


 Driverless Seattle: How the City Can Plan for Automated Vehicles

New Report from the University of Washington’s Tech Policy Lab and the Mobility Innovation Center Touts Need for Readiness, Tackles Costs and Benefits of Automated Vehicles

SEATTLE, Wash., Feb. 28, 2017—Automated vehicles (AVs) are coming to Seattle, and now is the time for government officials to prepare for them. So say the authors of “Driverless Seattle: How Cities Can Plan for Automated Vehicles,” a new report from the Tech Policy Lab at the University of Washington, put together in partnership with Challenge Seattle, a private sector initiative led by regional CEOs, and the Mobility Innovation Center at the University of Washington.

At their best, AVs promote traffic efficiency – especially important in Seattle, whose evening rush hour congestion is among the most in the nation. They reduce the number of vehicle crashes caused by human error, and mitigate human inefficiencies in the flow of traffic. They encourage ride-sharing rather than individual vehicle ownership. Moreover, they are already here: the Tesla Model S Autopilot system is available for purchase; the ride-share company Uber is testing AVs in Pittsburgh; and Google’s AV fleet has already driven nearly two million miles autonomously.

But how will Seattle integrate AVs more broadly into its complex transportation and legal landscapes? The key, claims Ryan Calo, a law professor and one of the report’s authors, is for the city to identify an AV strategy that will guide policymakers’ decision-making processes, and initiate coalition building with regional research institutions, public agencies, NGOs, and businesses. Seattle faces a difficult question. Will the city enthusiastically promote itself as an AV innovation hub? Or will we take a more hands-off approach? Alternatively, will we put strict limits on AV use until the technology has proved itself in other municipalities? And what does each option mean from a policy standpoint?

Deciding a course of action will enable local and regional officials to make consistent policy choices, and communicate those choices effectively. “Taking these steps now,” the authors argue, “will better position Seattle to continue to thrive in an eventual world of far greater automation in transportation.”

“Autonomous vehicles are going to fundamentally change transportation in Seattle, and we need to be ready for it,” said Christine Gregoire, CEO of Challenge Seattle. “This report offers a measured, research-based approach that will help Seattle prepare for a driverless future.”

“Autonomous vehicles are coming to cities, and in Seattle we’re planning today for how they will operate alongside all the other ways we get around,” said Scott Kubly, director of the Seattle Department of Transportation. “This report captures the big picture and provides a solid foundation for next steps on AV policy making and implementation.”

“Driverless Seattle” is the first product to come from the Mobility Innovation Center (MIC), which launched in March of 2016. A multi-disciplinary project housed at CoMotion at the University of Washington, the MIC brings together the Puget Sound region’s leading business, government, and academic sectors to use technology and innovation to find transportation solutions.

About the Tech Policy Lab

The Tech Policy Lab is a unique, interdisciplinary collaboration at the University of Washington that formally bridges three units: Computer Science and Engineering, the Information School, and the School of Law. Its mission is to help policymakers, broadly defined, make wise and inclusive technology policy.

About the Mobility Innovation Center

The University of Washington and Challenge Seattle are committed to advancing our region’s economy and quality of life by helping to build the transportation system of the future. Together, they have partnered to create a multi-disciplinary Mobility Innovation Center.  Housed at CoMotion at the University of Washington, the Center brings together the region’s leading expertise from the business, government, and academic sectors to tackle specific transportation challenges, using applied research and experimentation. Cross-sector teams will attack regional mobility problems, develop new technologies, apply system-level thinking, and bring new innovations to our regional transportation system.

CoMotion is the collaborative innovation hub dedicated to expanding the societal impact of the UW community.

About Challenge Seattle

Challenge Seattle is a private sector initiative led by many of the region’s CEOs working to address the issues that will determine the future of our region – for our economy and our families. Building on our region’s history, they are focused on taking on the challenges that must be addressed to ensure our region continues to grow, transform, and thrive, while maintaining our quality of life.


Melissa Englund
Marketing & Communications
UW School of Law
p: 206.685.7394

Donna O’Neill
Marketing & Communications
CoMotion at University of Washington
p: 206.685.9972

Toys That Listen – CHI 2017


What do teddy bears, My Friend Cayla and Barbie have in common? They are all toys connected to the internet that can listen, overhearing what goes on in the home. Security breaches and the privacy challenges of these devices are regularly in the news. During the holiday season of 2015 Hello Barbie faced significant pushback from privacy advocates and the companies involved, Mattel and ToyTalk, were responsive to concerns. This past holiday season a complaint was filed with the Federal Trade Commission over My Friend Cayla’s privacy failures and recently the doll was banned in Germany. Just this week it was revealed that the CloudPets’ teddy bears millions of recordings of parents’ and children’s conversations had been easily accessible online.

Describing them as Toys That Listen, our team at the Tech Policy Lab sought to better understand their privacy and security implications. We began with a hackathon investigating the security of toys like My Friend Cayla, Hello Barbie, Cognitoys Dino and others. We also sought to understand how parents and children viewed their privacy around these toys. We conducted interviews with parent-child pairs in which they interacted with Hello Barbie and CogniToys Dino, shedding light on children’s expectations of the toys’ “intelligence” and parents’ privacy concerns and expectations for parental controls. We found that children were often unaware that others might be able to hear what was said to the toy, and that some parents draw connections between the toys and similar tools not intended as toys (e.g., Siri, Alexa) with which their children already interact. Our findings illuminate people’s mental models and experiences with these emerging technologies and provide a foundation for recommendations to toy designers and policy makers. Read the paper (forthcoming in CHI 2017).

More information about our work is available through conferences we have participated in. In February we led a discussion on privacy and and the connected home at Start With Privacy, a conference organized by the Washington State Office of Privacy and Data Protection. We also joined a panel hosted by the Future of Privacy Forum and Family Online Safety Institute on Kids & the Connected Home and highlighted the portability of toys leading to children bringing new privacy concerns to their friend’s houses.

For questions about this project email


Director Calo Testifies on Augmented Reality before U.S. Senate


Lab Faculty Co-Director, Ryan Calo, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation at a hearing exploring augmented reality. Watch the hearing here and read his testimony below.

“Chairman Thune, Ranking Member Nelson, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss the promise and perils of augmented reality.

Augmented reality (AR) refers to a mobile or embedded technology that senses, processes, and outputs data in real time, recognizes and tracks real-world objects, and provides contextual information by supplementing—or in some cases, replacing—human senses. AR differs from so-called virtual reality in that AR users continue to experience most of their physical environment. AR has many positive applications, from training tomorrow’s workforce, to empowering people with disabilities. But the technology also raises novel or acute policy concerns that companies and policymakers must address if AR is to be widely adopted and positively affect American society.

The UW Tech Policy Lab is a unique, interdisciplinary research unit at the University of Washington that aims to help policymakers develop wise and inclusive technology policy. We have studied AR and its impact on diverse populations and discuss our findings in detail in the appended whitepaper Augmented Reality: A Technology and Policy Primer.

Our research suggests that AR raises a variety of question of law and policy, including around privacy, free speech, and novel forms of distraction and discrimination. For example: Will the constant recording of a user’s environment give hackers, companies, and government unparalleled access to the bedroom, the boardroom, and other private spaces? Could the superimposition of information over reality render the AR user vulnerable or unsafe? And are there situations—such as job interviews—where knowing everything about an individual could result in discrimination or subject the AR user to legal liability? Industry must design AR products with these and many other questions in mind.

Thank you again for the interest in our research and the opportunity to appear before the Committee. I look forward to your questions.”

Knight Foundation Demo Day – Peter Ney

This past July, Lab member Peter Ney presented his work on SeaGlass, a cell-site simulator detection system, at the Knight Foundation Prototype Demo Day in Miami. In the below post, Peter discusses his experience at the event.

In February, the Knight Foundation awarded the Prototype Grant to the SeaGlass team (colead by Ian Smith and me). This grant is designed to fund early-stage projects over a 6 month sprint, and the Demo Day was a chance to showcase our work to the Knight Foundation and the other grantees.

Cell phone surveillance became a hot topic after it was reported that law enforcement has been using cell phone tracking devices, called cell-site simulators, to locate suspects for years with little judicial oversight. To provide independent information on when, where, and how often cell-site simulators are used, we wanted to develop a measurement system that could detect them. We used the grant from Knight to build a monitoring system called SeaGlass that can detect cell-site simulators across a city and be run for long periods of time. After it was built, we tested SeaGlass by deploying it for two months in Seattle and Milwaukee. More details on SeaGlass will be coming in a future write up where we will also cover the technical details cell-site simulators and legal their legal implications. The talk received lots of great questions and feedback on future work.

In addition to presenting, it was also fun to see the progress that the other teams made in just six months. There were lots of exciting projects, all under the broad theme of data. Here are a few of my favorite talks.

Michael Skirpan, of the University of Colorado, designed an immersive theater performance on the future of technology and the ethics of personal data collection called Quantified Self. He described the technical details and lessons learned from the show. Before the performance, attendees give Quantified Self access to data stored in their online profiles. Attendees to the show wear RFID bracelets, so that their data can follow them as they participate in the show. The performance consists of many exhibits that showcase how their data can be used. One fun example was a mock job interview, where the interviewer researches you on social media. By using the real data of attendees, the show was able to make something as abstract as “data” into something that was more personally understood and salient.

Another exciting project was lead by Surya Mattu from ProPublica. Surya has been doing a lot of work reporting on the impacts of machine bias and how black-box algorithms are impacting our lives. He demoed a tool that his team has been developing to help people learn about data discrimination and data bias. The tool let people analyze their own data to determine if it is biased in sensitive ways, like race or gender. Surya hoped that by using the tool, people could gain a better understanding of their data and learn how to avoid using it in harmful or discriminatory ways.

Personalized data has also been used by political campaigns to create targeted political ads. To better understand this targeting, Young Mie Kim, a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin, discussed Project DATA. This is an effort to collect and analyze advertising data sent to real voters. To collect this data, Professor Kim worked with volunteers to record which political ads are displayed to them as they surf the web. Using this ad data, she hopes we can better understand how campaigns disseminate information and why particular voters are targeted.