How Uber Drove Its Self-Driving Cars Project Right Into A Ditch

Senior Contributor
02.27.17 3 Comments


Uber has been making a big deal out of self-driving cars. And it was supposed to have an enormous triumph last December when its fleet of luxury Volvos hit the streets of San Francisco sans humans at the wheel. But the California DMV shut down the experiment, and it turns out the reason why is because Uber is too cheap to shell out $150 for a permit.

Before we get into the meat of this, we want to remind you that Uber is spending half a billion dollars developing self-driving cars. So, with that in mind, we’ll let The Verge explain how a permit totally derailed the whole experiment and sent the fleet to Arizona:

…in multiple emails to the DMV, Anthony Levandowski, vice president at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group and the company’s top executive in charge of autonomous technology, argued that what it was doing did not meet the legal definition of autonomous vehicle testing, spurring a brain-bending debate over the letter of the law. The debate ended inconclusively, and Uber ultimately launched its doomed public pilot without ever notifying state regulators of its intentions to invite members of the public into the backseat of its self-driving cars.

“In their minds, they really thought they weren’t autonomous,” Jessica Gonzalez, assistant deputy director of public affairs at the DMV, told The Verge. “But we decide what’s autonomous. And under our regulations, it was.”

Important to note here: This is not a fee of $150 per vehicle. It’s a fee of $150 for ten vehicles. So, to summarize, essentially, California patiently explained they set the rules for who puts cars on the road, offered to make the process easy, and one of Uber’s top executives thought it was a better use of his time to try and argue the law with the people who make the laws in the first place than to give them $150. Furthermore, Uber was using the Volvo XC90, which has a base MSRP of $45,000, and has been reconfigured with a self-driving package of sensors and computers that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Uber has not been having a great time of it lately, between sexual harassment allegations, the #DeleteUber campaign, and its cavalier handling of private information, so this is relatively minor, in the scheme of things. Still, come on, seriously, you couldn’t fork over for a permit?

(via The Verge)

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