Governance and Adaptive Regulation of Transformational Technologies in Transportation (2017-2018)


Emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles and three dimensional printing offer extraordinary promise to revolutionize the transportation sector. Autonomous vehicles may usher in an era where people no longer own their own cars, but can call for a car whenever needed. Self-driving cars may reduce accidents, energy use and transportation time, and may increase personal productivity. 3D printing may enable a shift away from an economy where goods are produced at a facility and transported by ship, rail or truck to consumers or assemblers, to one where consumer goods and parts can be manufactured on demand when and where needed.

But these new technologies may also introduce risks, such as network failures or hacking that disrupt autonomous vehicles, and the use of 3D printing to make weapons. These risks will need to be managed and regulated despite the fact that the benefits and risks may be difficult to discern at early stages of innovation, and more thorough understanding of those risks will evolve over time. As a result, whereas traditional regulation is often static, policies in these new domains need to be adaptive—evolving over time in response to new information on risks and benefits.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project’s goal is to develop an approach to regulatory design and institutional updating, including model regulatory language, for both autonomous cars and 3D printing. The approach will be based on expertise on these technologies and analysis of how different regulatory options affect deployment of the technologies and learning about the emerging risks, benefits, costs and distribution of these technologies. The objective of this analysis is to inform decisions about regulating these emerging technologies, and to develop better approaches for adaptive regulation of emerging technologies in general.

On the analysis side, the project team will engage in activities such as understanding, defining and classifying risks posed by new technologies as well as interactions of those risks with existing risks; development of scenarios for technology development and deployment; development of possible regulatory options that are consistent with existing legal frameworks; modeling the benefits, costs and distributional impacts of these different regulatory options; and evaluating ethical differences in the outcomes from different regulatory options.

On the engagement side, the team will interact with key regulatory officials, particularly at the Department of Transportation, as well as leaders in industry and civil society.

Related Courses

Optional for undergraduates: History of the Regulatory State; Regulation and Emerging Technologies; core courses in mechanical or energy engineering

Optional for graduate students: Risk Regulation; Energy Economics and Policy; Energy and Transportation; courses in mechanical or energy engineering

Anticipated Outcomes

Policy report with recommendations on model regulatory design and language to promote adaptive regulation for both autonomous vehicles and 3D printing (report will be based on modeling and analysis of alternative regulatory structures on deployment, risks, benefits, costs and distribution of those outcomes); two or more peer-reviewed publications with student and faculty coauthors; website containing final policy briefs as well as technical reports on the analysis.

Student Opportunities

The project team will likely include two to four graduate students and four to six undergraduate students, plus one graduate/professional student (or postdoc) project manager.

The project manager (pursuing a PhD, MEM, MEMP, MPP, JD or SJD) will oversees logistics, and should have a background in regulation with some technical or analytical skill set. Undergraduates or graduate students with engineering/technical background, analytic/modeling capabilities and legal/regulatory skills are especially encouraged to apply, but all majors and program areas are welcome.

The team will be divided into two sub-teams—one focused on each of the key technologies. Each sub-team will have both graduate and undergraduate students, with one to two faculty members serving as primary leads, and will meet as a unit for up to two hours per week. There will also be one hour-long meeting per week as a whole team. 

At the beginning of the fall semester the team meetings will contain a set of lectures by the faculty that quickly bring everyone up to speed on the key topics pertaining to the project. Then the sub-teams will report every other week. Toward the middle of the fall semester and for the entire spring semester these meetings will be used for the sub-teams to report to one another, so that each sub-team is reporting biweekly.

All students will interact with industry and regulators and work on a data-rich research project. Depending on skills and interests, some students will gain depth in modeling and data analysis, legal research, ethical research, technical writing and project management.

Students will be required to write at least one blog post each semester that will be featured on the project website. Students will also be required to engage in reflection writing exercises that help them better contextualize what they have been learning and working on and inform their next steps. Students will complete a sub-team assessment once per semester. Overall grading will be based on the blog posts, reflection exercises, full team report in the spring and group assessments.


Spring 2017 – Spring 2018

  • Spring 2017: Adaptive Regulation Project Symposium in May; selected students required to attend
  • Fall 2017: Introductory lectures, sub-team formation, team charters, team building; trip to meet with regulators, and industry and civil society groups over fall break; refine research questions, identify data models, meet with industry and regulatory leaders as needed
  • Spring 2018: Research and writing, meet with industry and regulatory leaders as needed; poster presentation, full report, policy briefs, website


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters

This Team in the News

The Brief Breakdown, Episode 1: DOT Federal Automated Vehicle Policy (Part 1)


Faculty/Staff Team Members

Lori Bennear, Nicholas School - Environmental Sciences & Policy*
Michael Clamman, Pratt - Humans and Autonomy Lab*
Nita Farahany, Law; Trinity - Philosophy; Duke Initiative for Science & Society*
Andrea Renda, Kenan Institute for Ethics*
Jonathan Wiener, Law School*

Undergraduate Team Members

Sarah Sibley, Political Science (AB), Computer Science (AB2)

* denotes team leader