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Why it's getting harder for Uber to break the law (Slate, Henry Grabar)

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kitkat22
222 Rider
 Posted 5 years, 9 months ago

Like a parent snatching away the car keys, the California DMV has put the kibosh on Uber's autonomous vehicle trial in San Francisco.

On Wednesday, an Uber spokesperson said, California stripped the registration from the autonomous Volvos that the company had put into service in San Francisco. The trial has ended, though the company says it will find a way to "develop workable statewide rules" in California going forward. It will seek to deploy its autonomous vehicles elsewhere in the interim.

It's a humbling moment for the San Francisco-based ride-hailing giant, which had maintained that its autonomous vehicles did not require a special permit under state law. They were not actually autonomous because they could not drive without human monitoring, the company's AV czar Anthony Levandowski argued in a conference call with reporters last Friday. He did not see what distinguished Uber's cars from Teslas with autopilot enabled.

But it's also a crucial test case. Uber has long flouted local laws until they could be bent to suit its operations or pre-empted in the statehouse. As the San Francisco case demonstrates, that posture gets harder to maintain as the company shifts from software to hardware. The days of Uber playing the outlaw startup are vanishing as the company acquires millions in fixed assets.

The week-long trial had been contentious from the start. The cars, which are already in customer operation in Pittsburgh, were filmed and photographed running red lights, though the company blamed that on human error. Several days later, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition alleged the cars were making unsafe turns across bike lanes. The company said engineers were w…

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Like a parent snatching away the car keys, the California DMV has put the kibosh on Uber's autonomous vehicle trial in San Francisco.

On Wednesday, an Uber spokesperson said, California stripped the registration from the autonomous Volvos that the company had put into service in San Francisco. The trial has ended, though the company says it will find a way to "develop workable statewide rules" in California going forward. It will seek to deploy its autonomous vehicles elsewhere in the interim.

It's a humbling moment for the San Francisco-based ride-hailing giant, which had maintained that its autonomous vehicles did not require a special permit under state law. They were not actually autonomous because they could not drive without human monitoring, the company's AV czar Anthony Levandowski argued in a conference call with reporters last Friday. He did not see what distinguished Uber's cars from Teslas with autopilot enabled.

But it's also a crucial test case. Uber has long flouted local laws until they could be bent to suit its operations or pre-empted in the statehouse. As the San Francisco case demonstrates, that posture gets harder to maintain as the company shifts from software to hardware. The days of Uber playing the outlaw startup are vanishing as the company acquires millions in fixed assets.

The week-long trial had been contentious from the start. The cars, which are already in customer operation in Pittsburgh, were filmed and photographed running red lights, though the company blamed that on human error. Several days later, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition alleged the cars were making unsafe turns across bike lanes. The company said engineers were working on the problem.

That Uber proceeded with the rollout despite assurances from California regulators that it would be shut down demonstrates the company's hubris, you might say. But it also shows the company's determination to evolve from a software company to a fleet manager. Developing an autonomous vehicle is "basically existential for us," CEO Travis Kalanick told Bloomberg this summer.

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