Uber Granted a Permit to Test its Self-driving Vehicles on Public Roads in California

Uber Granted a Permit to Test its Self-driving Vehicles on Public Roads in California

Author: FutureCar Staff    

After a three year hiatus, Uber is putting its self-driving vehicles back on the streets of California. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issued a permit on Wednesday to the company's self-driving unit, Uber Advanced Technologies (Uber ATG).

The permit also comes nearly two years after one of the ride-hailing company's self-driving vehicle fatality struck a pedestrian in March 2018 in Arizona, which led to Uber suspending its all of its testing in California, Pittsburgh and Arizona.

It was the first documented accident involving a self-driving vehicle. The accident brought attention to the safety of self-driving vehicles being tested on public roads, as well as Uber's software and procedures for testing vehicles and training the employees that monitor them.

The accident spurred an investigation by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Agency (NHTSA) in the following weeks. The NHTSA determined that Uber's software was a contributing factor, as well the inattentive safety driver behind the wheel who was found to be watching a cell phone video instead of paying attention to the road ahead.

Uber is Picking Up Where it Left Off in 2016

Uber first began mapping and testing its self-driving vehicles in San Francisco in 2016 and eventually planned to add them to Uber's ride-hailing network.

At the time, Uber argued it didn't need the required DMV permit, insisting that its vehicles were technically not "self-driving", since they had a human safety driver behind the wheel ready to take over. However, California's DMV disagreed with Uber's position. 

After weeks of non-compliance by Uber, the California DMV revoked the registrations of the company's fleet of self-driving Volvo XC90 SUVs for not having the permit. The move effectively shut down Ubers test operations in San Francisco.

Uber immediately began moving its San Francisco-based fleet of vehicles to Arizona. The next day, Uber began shipping its vehicle's on trucks to Arizona, after the state's Governor, Doug Ducey said that Arizona was "open for business" and announced an open invitation to tech companies and automakers to test their self-driving vehicles there instead.

Ironically, the permit granted to Uber today was the same one it refused to apply for in 2016, becoming the lone holdout in a large group of startups and automakers testing autonomous vehicles in California.

At the time, California and Arizona were one of a few states that allowed the testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads. The California DMV issued its Autonomous Vehicles Testing Permit to over 60 companies over the past three years, many of these companies are located in Silicon Valley, which has become a popular location for automakers and startups to set up operations to gain access to a large pool of engineering talent proximity to venture capital firms.

Current permit holders are Uber's rival Lyft, Volkswagen, General Motors, Ford and a host of autonomous driving startups.

Alphabet's self-driving division and rival Waymo, which sprung out of Google early self-driving car project, is also testing in Arizona, in the city of Chandler. Waymo is planning to launch a robotaxi service called Waymo One to compete with Uber. 

Waymo's testing is ongoing. The company launched an "early rider" program, where a select group of riders can summon one of Waymo's self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans via a smartphone app. Waymo's service will compete directly with Uber and the Alphabet division has gained a bigger head start since Uber was forced to suspend its own testing.

Waymo is widely considered to be the leader in self-driving technology. It's fleet of autonomous vehicles has already surpassed 20 million miles on public roads, and billions more in computer simulation.

For now, Uber said it does not have immediate plans to engage in autonomous driving in the state, adding it would notify regulatory stakeholders before it does. The ride-hailing firm has taken a more cautious approach to testing its self-driving vehicles after the Arizona accident. 

The company's new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, ordered a "top to bottom review" of Uber's entire self-driving program immediately following the Arizona fatality in 2018.

Now with its self-driving vehicles getting back on the roads in California, Uber is hoping to get back on track.

FutureCar Staff
FutureCar Staff
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