Uber has removed its self-driving cars from San Francisco roads

San Francisco Uber self-driving
San Francisco Uber self-drivingMore

23 December, 2016

"We respectfully disagree with the California Department of Motor Vehicles legal interpretation of today's autonomous regulations, in particular that Uber needs a testing permit to operate its self-driving cars in San Francisco", Anthony Levandowski, leader of Uber's self-driving auto initiative, said in a statement.

This move comes after the DMV sent Uber written warnings claiming that its self-driving program was against the law, as Uber didn't obtain the proper permits for testing self-driving cars in California.

Uber had tested the self-driving cars earlier this year in Pittsburgh but had rolled out the program again in San Francisco on Dec.14. Uber confirmed that it was a self-driving truck, but the pictures showed a driver in the front seat.

Uber started its self-driving auto program in San Francisco last week. The company tried to skirt regulations, saying its tests fell under a different purview and likened its autonomous cars to Tesla's autopilot that doesn't require the same permits. The testing lets Uber identify glitches and gives everyday people a chance to interact with the technology - whether as a passenger, pedestrian or driver in another auto. One of them is the fact that the city is small and with major traffic congestion.

The company had been locked in a row with the California Department of Motor Vehicles since the trial in San Francisco began. Instead, Uber's first fleet of electric taxis has just hit the roads in Madrid, where a severe problem with pollution has prompted a great deal of interest in electric vehicles. The company has "a history of pushing the boundaries, not wanting to wait for permission because it slows down innovation", Michael Ramsey, an autonomous vehicle expert at Gartner, told TechRepublic.

Of course the San Francisco launch was far from flawless.

What happened most recently and why does it matter?

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"We have stopped our self-driving pilot in California as the DMV has revoked the registrations for our self-driving cars", an Uber spokesperson said via e-mail.

A statement from the DMV revealed that the agency revoked registrations for 16 vehicles. Uber's vice president of advanced technologies, Anthony Levandowski, said the program will continue to run as the cars do not meet the definition of autonomous vehicles.

Twenty other companies working on self-driving technology have already received permits from California's DMV, including Google, Tesla, BMW, Ford and Honda. Another possible advantage of not holding a permit is that Uber would not be forced to report accidents.

What will Uber do now? . "Perhaps Uber wanted to make a statement, and it made it", said Ramsey.

Uber, which has long assumed a pugnacious approach to government regulation of its ride-hailing services, had ignored state requirements to apply for state permits that require permit holders to share crash data and other information.

But Uber said California's laws on autonomous vehicles didn't apply because its cars need a passenger to actively monitor things.

Operating without a permit arguably gives Uber a competitive advantage.

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