Hello Backchannel braintrust,
Sandra here, with two stories for you.
Last May, Mark Harris noticed something strange in a video he was watching. I gave him a regular task, to create a quick question and answer to the founders of a self-driving truck startup that was born out of stealth mode. That company, founded by the old folks of Google, was Otto, and it produced a stunning video in an undisclosed position of a truck plunging down a highway, unseen. found in the car. (By the way, Otto was soon acquired by Uber for $ 680 million.)
When Mark watched the video over and over, he saw signs on the street saying the test was taking place in Nevada. Because he has protected self-driving cars for years, he happened to know that in Nevada, self-driving cars need a special red license plate, to prove they’ve been approved for testing. This truck doesn’t have those signs.
We have published his Q&A section, right at the time of the official Otto launch. But Mark couldn’t get away from the question why Otto’s truck didn’t have the right number plates, so he filed for a public record. When those documents arrived, he discovered what had actually happened backstage. The details here seem mundane – after all, they are summarized into the paperwork that Otto refused to submit, against the DMV Nevada’s request. But the bigger problem is supreme relevance for all of us.
Self-driving cars are transforming the world. They are testing aggressively on our pathways. They were rushing towards us like a self-driving truck on the deserted Nevada highway. And we have every reason to worry whether those cars and trucks are safe. Are the companies that built them fully responsible for the dignity of their code? Do we trust the startups that are reshaping our path will do their best to keep us safe? These are essential questions that we need to keep asking. This week I am proud to bring you Dispatch markers from within state agencies tasked with regulating this exciting, nerve-tense technology.
Meanwhile, Andrew Zaleski is doing another investigation for Backchannel – an investigation into the darling of desktop 3D printing, MakerBot. He first heard of MakerBot a few years earlier, while talking about an after-school program in Baltimore in which kids were learning how to use 3D printers. He became increasingly interested in the company and started reporting about it often. MakerBot’s vision, he soon knew, was infatuated: to revolutionize production, empowering people to print at home anything they might need. Machines are open source, so they will also be owned by everyone. Bre Pettis, co-founder of MakerBot, calls it “the beginning of the era of sharing”. A community of DIY enthusiasts sprouted up around these highly hackable machines.
Andrew visited MakerBot’s factory in the summer of 2015 and pays homage to its current CEO, Jonathan Jaglom. However, the vibrant optimism of the early years was not there. The company overcame a wave of layoffs and lawsuits over the 3D printer division.
Curious to know what happened, Andrew learned about the company’s plot, including watching a movie with a poster with Pettis’ face on a coin, in a position where George Washington would normally Occupy. “I watched the documentary, Print legendand just thought people were holding back their answers, ”Andrew recalled. “And when I started talking to people, their own stories began to flow. What he unearthed was an Icarus story: the company set its goals too high, and in the quest to create revolutionary dreams – perhaps impossible – MakerBot finally turned his back on it is the community that promotes its development.