Uber backs down from self-driving standoff with California

Tech firm flinches as state revokes registrations for 16 vehicles

A logo sits on the wall inside the offices of Uber Technologies. Photograph: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

A logo sits on the wall inside the offices of Uber Technologies. Photograph: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

 

Uber Technologies pulled its self-driving cars from San Francisco’s streets after the state of California revoked registrations for the vehicles.

The move impacted 16 Uber cars, the Department of Motor Vehicles wrote in an e-mailed statement Wednesday. The agency also issued a letter to the company inviting it to apply for a registration for autonomous vehicle testing, saying that it has a dedicated team to expedite the process. Uber said it had stopped using the cars in the state.

Uber said last week it began rolling out its self-driving vehicles in its hometown of San Francisco without seeking permission from authorities. The company argued it hadn’t behaved any differently than Tesla Motors, which makes electric cars that include a feature called Autopilot.

Almost since its inception in 2009, Uber has run afoul of regulators in its home state and elsewhere, usually over taxi and labour rules. In the case of self-driving cars, Uber said its vehicles require oversight by a human driver and therefore shouldn’t qualify under California’s autonomous-driving rules. The state attorney general threatened legal action last week if the company continued operating the automobiles without a permit. Uber suggested Wednesday it would try to shape future regulation instead of filing the paperwork.

“We’re now looking at where we can redeploy these cars but remain 100 percent committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules,” Uber wrote in an e-mailed statement.

The California vehicle code defines an autonomous vehicle as a “technology that has the capability to drive a vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring by a human operator”. The California DMV requires autonomous vehicle providers to register with the state, something that Alphabet’s Google, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, General Motors ’ Cruise and Baidu have done.

Companies are required to file reports when drivers intercede or their cars crash. Tesla doesn’t file any such reports and similarly believes it doesn’t meet the requirements for autonomous vehicles.

Uber still operates self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, where the programme began in September. San Francisco was the second city where Uber customers could request a ride in a self-driving car. It may find friendlier officials outside its home state. Arizona governor Doug Ducey wrote on Twitter, “California may not want you; but AZ does!”

Bloomberg

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