Uber is expanding its autonomous taxi service into San Francisco.
The ride-sharing firm launched its self-piloted cars in Pittsburgh this fall, each with a “driver” along for the ride in case of emergency. Now, it’s returning to its hometown with a fleet of Volvo XC90 self-driving cars (and those safety drivers), which will be offered to those requesting an uberX when available.
“The promise of self-driving is core to our mission of reliable transportation, everywhere for everyone,” Uber’s VP of self-driving tech, Anthony Levandowski, wrote in a blog post. “As demand for ridesharing continues to skyrocket, the future of transportation will be a mix of human drivers and self-driving cars.”
In early 2015, Uber teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University to create a center in Pittsburgh where it could research and develop autonomous technology. A year later, the company confirmed trials of a driverless automobile. “Real-world testing is critical to our efforts to develop self-driving technology,” it said at the time. Now, a fleet of hybrid Ford Fusions, branded with Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center (ATC) logo and outfitted with an array of sensors, are roaming Pittsburgh streets.
“With its challenging roads and often varied weather, Pittsburgh provided a wide array of experiences,” Levandowski said. “San Francisco comes with its own nuances including more bikes on the road, high traffic density and narrow lanes.”
Uber may not be operating in The Golden City for long, though. The company is not listed among those entities that have secured an Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The state began distributing permits in 2014; as of Dec. 8, 2016, almost two dozen companies—including Google, Ford, and Nvidia—have received permission to test self-driving cars in California.
“We have looked at this issue carefully and we don’t believe we do” need a testing permit to launch self-driving Ubers in San Francisco,” the blog said. “Before you roll your eyes and think, ‘there they go again,’ let us take a moment to explain.”
According to Levandowski, “the rules apply to cars that can drive without someone controlling or monitoring them. For us, it’s still early days and our cars are not yet ready to drive without a person monitoring them.”
At this point, the state requires a driver to be behind the wheel at all times during testing so they can take over during an emergency. In September, regulators took the first step towards allowing unoccupied autonomous vehicles to roam the streets, but it’s currently only permitted at the GoMentum Station testing grounds and a private business park in Contra Costa County.
Uber essentially argues that restrictions are stifling creativity. “Several cities and states have recognized that complex rules and requirements could have the unintended consequence of slowing innovation,” Levandowski said. “Our hope is that California, our home state and a leader in much of the world’s dynamism, will take a similar view.”
“The California DMV encourages the responsible exploration of self-driving cars,” the organization told PCMag in a statement. “We have a permitting process in place to ensure public safety as this technology is being tested. Twenty manufacturers have already obtained permits to test hundreds of cars on California roads. Uber shall do the same.”
Uber is investing heavily in autonomous tech; in addition to the Volvo partnership, it acquired Otto, a truck-focused startup that recently facilitated the autonomous delivery of 2,000 crates of Budweiser from Fort Collins, through Denver, to Colorado Springs.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. ET with comment from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
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