Driverless Cars

Uber Is Testing California’s Autonomous Vehicle Rules Again

Its self-driving trucks may be a little too autonomous

Driverless Cars
Feb 09, 2017 at 1:34 PM ET

Uber’s self-driving vehicles, last seen being driven out of California under a cloud of shame after its attempt to flout the state’s autonomous vehicle testing regulations failed, may have run afoul of the rules once again.

Otto, the self-driving truck company Uber bought in 2016, has been testing its trucks on California’s roads since January 2016, but, the California DMV told Vocativ, under the assumption that those trucks were not yet capable of operating in a fully autonomous mode that would require them to obtain permits. Which is good for Otto, because California currently does not allow autonomous vehicles over 10,000 pounds to be tested on its roads at all.

But lo, Car and Driver has discovered that Otto’s trucks may be much more sophisticated and autonomous than the company let on. In a document the magazine obtained through a public records request, a software engineer says the trucks use a “self-driving system,” which the human driver can “engage” during tests, being ready at all times to “take over full driving responsibilities when necessary.”

Uber did not respond to request for comment but told Car and Driver that its trucks were merely using only driver-assist technology, which is permissible under state law and which is how the company described the program to the DMV.

Now that this document has surfaced, however, the DMV tells Vocativ it’s going to take another look at Otto. Should it find that the trucks are more autonomous than previously believed, they will, presumably, be in danger of having their registrations pulled, which is what happened to Uber’s self-driving fleet when it tried to run tests on San Francisco’s roads last December. Back then, the company claimed it did not need to get permits for its cars because it believed they were not truly autonomous. The logic Uber used for this was that because a driver was in the front seat ready to take over driving duties if necessary, it wasn’t a completely self-driving car.

After the California DMV pulled the registrations, Uber shipped its self-driving fleet to the welcoming arms of Arizona. The cars were sent on flatbed trucks, as they were not allowed to drive themselves there.