Consumer Watchdog Calls on California DMV to Stop Otto’s Illegal Robot Truck Testing; Also Asks Agency to Revoke Uber’s Self-Driving Car Registrations Because Firm Cannot Be Trusted

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SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today called on the Department of Motor Vehicles to revoke Otto’s robot truck registrations and seek appropriate charges against the company and its executives for illegally testing self-driving technology on California roads.​

The group also said that given Otto's actions, Uber cannot be trusted and the DMV should revoke the registrations of the robot cars Uber recently returned to San Francisco with the claim they won’t operate in self-driving mode. Uber bought Otto last summer to get access to its self-driving technology. 

 In a formal complaint to DMV Director Jean Shiomoto, John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project Director wrote:

 “As you know, testing self-driving vehicles in California requires a permit, something that 21 companies have obtained with no problem. Moreover, self-driving vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds cannot be tested in the state under current regulations. Otto’s robot trucks fail on both counts.  They have no permits and they weigh too much.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s formal complaint here:

“Based on Otto’s behavior, there is absolutely no reason to take Uber’s word for anything,” wrote Simpson. “The company simply cannot be trusted. We call on you to revoke Ubers robot car registrations again.”

Uber illegally tested its robot cars in San Francisco in December without permits until the DMV revoked the cars’ registrations.  Some cars have recently been returned to the city with the claim that they are only gathering data and doing mapping, not operating in self-driving mode.  Based on Otto’s behavior, there is absolutely no reason to take Uber’s word for anything, Consumer Watchdog said.

Otto’s “wanton disregard of the law is clear” in the company’s own statements, Consumer Watchdog said.  A document Otto gave to the Colorado Department of Transportation in preparation for the publicity stunt last fall of having an Otto robot truck haul beer from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, describes its self-driving testing activities in the San Francisco area.   The document was obtained from Colorado authorities though a public records act request.  It clearly describes illegal testing:

“Before testing begins on any given day and route, the co-driver will first evaluate the current road conditions and system readiness before calling ‘engage.’ The driver must then manually press a button on the dashboard to engage the self-driving system.  While the self-driving system is engaged, the diver must be extremely attentive and ready to take back full control whenever necessary. In situations where the driver decides to take back full, the logging software in the self-driving system remains active and records the corrective action the driver took.”

Read Otto’s document about self-driving testing here:

“There is no more explicit description of how self-driving testing is performed,” the complaint said. “Otto is simply doing this in violation of the law.”  

The document obtained from Colorado authorities also emphasized the importance of disengagements reports, which detail when the robot technology failed and the driver took over. California regulations importantly require companies testing self-driving technology in the state to file disengagement reports annually.  In the document provided to the Colorado Department of Transportation Otto details four levels of disengagements:

 Comfort – a case where drivers felt uncomfortable with the decision the self-driving system made, but in reality, pose near-zero safety threat to themselves or anyone else on the road. This category exists because we train our drivers to be extremely cautious and defensive.

 Public perception – a case where the behavior of the truck would be considered odd from an onlooker’s perspective.  This is a real software bug, bit has near-zero safety implications. An example might be minimal weaving within the lane while traveling in slow-moving traffic.

 Major – a scenario that could have had safety implications had there not been driver intervention. An example would be braking on the freeway when there was no reason to do so. ‘Major’ scenarios are ones that could have resulted in a safety risk had there been a different set of actors, surrounding the truck; but they would not have actually resulted in a collision or near-collision even if the human driver had not taken back full control during the particular environment of road conditions when the disengage occurred.

 Critical – a scenario where the truck’s self-driving actions put it or any surrounding actors in actual danger that required the driver to take back full control at that time. An example could be a situation where the driver takes over because the system did not command enough braking in order to stop in time for a lead vehicle.”

 Consumer Watchdog’s formal complaint concluded:

 “Otto’s activities are even more flagrant violations of the law than Uber’s were.  We call on the Department to act immediately to protect public safety by revoking the Otto vehicles’ registrations and seeking penalties for both the company and its executives to the fullest extent permissible under the law.  Because Otto’s behavior calls into question the honesty of Uber’s claims, you should revoke the registrations of its robot cars that have just returned to California.




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