Uber sends self-driving cars to Arizona

Uber sends self-driving cars to Arizona after failed San Francisco pilot
By MARISA KENDALL PUBLISHED: December 22, 2016 at 12:35 pm | UPDATED: December 22, 2016 at 9:38 pm

The day after California regulators shut down Uber’s self-driving car program in San Francisco, Uber on Thursday packed up its autonomous vehicles and hauled them to Arizona, vowing to resume testing there.

The move was a quick rebound by Uber after its pilot program in San Francisco fell apart after just one week. Instead of giving in to California regulators and applying for a $150 permit to test its self-driving cars on public roads, Uber on Thursday once again signaled it doesn’t need to play by its home state’s rules.

“Our cars departed for Arizona this morning by truck,” an Uber spokeswoman wrote in an emailed statement Thursday. “We’ll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks, and we’re excited to have the support of Governor Ducey.”

The company released photos showing its silver Volvo SUVs loaded onto the back of a semi truck owned by Otto — the autonomous trucking startup that Uber acquired in August.

Uber had refused to seek a California permit before sending its fleet of self-driving cars to pick up passengers on San Francisco streets, claiming it didn’t need the authorization because its vehicles are not fully autonomous — they have drivers behind the wheel ready to take control if needed. After a contentious standoff that made national headlines, the California Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday revoked the registrations of Uber’s self-driving vehicles, forcing them off the road.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on Thursday welcomed the self-driving Ubers to his state, where they will not need a special permit to drive on public roads, and positioned California’s neighbor as a welcoming alternative for Uber and other disruptive innovators.

“While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses,” he wrote in a statement. “California may not want you, but we do.”

Ducey last year signed an executive order supporting the testing and operation of self-driving cars and establishing a Self-Driving Vehicle Oversight Committee to advise officials on how to advance the progress of autonomous vehicles.

Self-driving cars are treated the same as any other vehicle in Arizona, Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Timothy Tait wrote in an emailed statement.

“We hope this cooperation and common-sense approach, combined with this state’s favorable climate, encourage even more companies to test autonomous vehicles in Arizona,” he wrote.

Waymo, the self-driving car project that spun off from Google parent Alphabet earlier this month, already is testing autonomous vehicles in the state. Ducey took his first ride in one of the cars last week in Chandler, Arizona.

Uber found a friendly regulatory climate in Arizona, but the company also likely turned to the state because it already has a relationship with officials there. Uber has been working with the University of Arizona since last year to develop mapping technology as part of the company’s self-driving car efforts, and has mapping vehicles based at the campus. Uber also gave the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences a $25,000 grant as part of the partnership.

Ducey began courting Uber on social media Wednesday after the ride-hailing company announced it had halted its San Francisco program. “This is what over-regulation looks like!” the governor tweeted, adding a “DitchCalifornia” hashtag.

 Doug Ducey @dougducey
This is what OVER-regulation looks like! #ditchcalifornia https://twitter.com/AP/status/811745782613282816 …
6:45 PM - 21 Dec 2016
  41 41 Retweets   62 62 likes

As self-driving technology improves and auto manufacturers and tech companies speak increasingly about a driverless future, states like Arizona are starting to compete for testing programs, lauding their tech-friendly climates and rejecting strict regulation. Michigan recently joined the club, passing a set of bills that prompted GM to begin testing autonomous vehicles in the state.

“Every state wants to be the Silicon Valley of automated driving,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina and scholar with Stanford Law School who specializes in autonomous driving. “They want to be the new hot spot where these technologies are tested.”

But Uber is going to want to bring its self-driving car program back to California eventually, Smith said, because the state is such a gold mine for talent and a huge market. The state’s rules haven’t stopped other companies from testing there.

“California has perhaps the most restrictive regime,” he said, “and yet they’ve had 20 companies register.”


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