Uber pulls self-driving cars from San Francisco roads, bowing to regulators’ demands

Uber pulls self-driving cars from San Francisco roads, bowing to regulators’ demands

By MARISA KENDALL | mkendall@bayareanewsgroup.com
PUBLISHED: December 21, 2016 at 5:24 pm | UPDATED: December 21, 2016 at 7:39 pm

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber pulled its self-driving cars off San Francisco’s streets Wednesday after the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles revoked their registrations, effectively ending the company’s controversial pilot program after just one week.

The move marked a dramatic end to Uber’s standoff with state regulators over the San Francisco-based company’s insistence that it did not need a permit to test its self-driving cars, even though the state said it did and other companies testing such cars have complied. It’s not clear when or under what conditions self-driving Ubers might return to California’s roads.

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

The DMV’s crackdown was a setback for Uber in what many viewed as the ride-hailing giant’s attempt to re-write California’s autonomous vehicle rules. The $68 billion company caught state officials by surprise when it launched its fleet of self-driving vehicles on San Francisco roads last week. After being forced to bow to state regulators, Uber said Wednesday that it has no plans to apply for a permit, but is “open to having the conversation.”

By revoking the registrations for all 16 of Uber’s self-driving cars in California, the DMV made good on a previous threat to shut down the company’s unauthorized pilot program. The company has been running a similar pilot program in Pittsburgh since fall without major incident.

“Uber is welcome to test its autonomous technology in California like everybody else, through the issuance of a testing permit that can take less than 72 hours to issue after a completed application is submitted,” a DMV spokesman wrote in an emailed statement. “The department stands ready to assist Uber in obtaining a permit as expeditiously as possible.”

DMV Director Jean Shiomoto also sent a letter to Uber, promising that the department fully supports the autonomous technologies.

“We are committed to assisting Uber in their efforts to innovate and advance this ground-breaking technology,” the director wrote. Though the state’s letter indicated that Uber had expressed interest in applying for a permit, the company was non-committal late Wednesday.

Uber’s self-driving vehicles — Volvos that can steer and brake themselves, but operate with someone in the driver’s seat ready to take control if needed — were controversial from the moment they rolled out as part of a small-scale pilot in San Francisco.

Unlike competitors such as Google, Tesla Motors and Nvidia, which have obtained state-issued permits to test their self-driving cars on public roads, Uber said it didn’t need a permit because its cars are not fully autonomous. Regulators disagreed. The DMV, the Attorney General’s office and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee all demanded that Uber shut down the program and threatened legal action if the company refused to comply.

Uber’s decision to take its cars off the streets came as growing numbers of people expressed concerns over the vehicles’ safety.

Brian Wiedenmeir, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said he saw self-driving Ubers make multiple illegal and unsafe “right-hook” turns across bicycle lanes during a test ride before the program’s launch last week.

“Those vehicles are not yet ready for our streets,” Wiedenmeir wrote in a post on the coalition’s website.

Uber, however, says its cars can detect people on bicycles.

“We’re working on a software fix for right hooks which has already been fixed operationally, meaning that all of our vehicles operators have been instructed to take over our vehicles when they’re making these turns,” a company spokeswoman wrote in an emailed statement earlier this week.

After a video surfaced last week showing a self-driving Uber running a red light outside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Santa Monica-based public interest group Consumer Watchdog said red-light running was a problem even before the program’s official launch. In a letter to the DMV this week, the group reported that a San Francisco cafe operator saw a self-driving Uber run a red light about three weeks ago. The group claimed the driver’s hands were not on the wheel at the time.

Uber blamed red light incidents on error by human drivers, not the cars’ technology.

Lee commended the DMV for taking enforcement action against Uber.

“I have always been a strong supporter of innovation and autonomous vehicle development and testing,” he wrote Wednesday in an emailed statement, “but only under conditions that put human, bicyclist and pedestrian safety first.”


Popular posts from this blog

Report: World’s 1st remote brain surgery via 5G network performed in China

Visualizing The Power Of The World's Supercomputers

BMW traps alleged thief by remotely locking him in car