Rogue Two: Uber Robo-Car Wars in San Francisco

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From in its inception, Uber does not follow the law and instead tries to create its own rules. This time, Uber appears to have gone to far, testing self-driving cars without a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles bringing a statement from the DMV as well as objections from Consumer Watchdog.

Self-driving testing of cars by Uber in San Francisco have been seen around San Francisco since September.

In a blog post today Uber announced, “Starting today, riders who request an uberX in San Francisco will be matched with a Self-Driving Uber if one is available.”

Uber claims that because the cars can not drive without a driver or engineer monitoring them they do not fit California’s definition of autonomous which is cars that have the “capability” to drive “without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person

“Finally, we understand that there is a debate over whether or not we need a testing permit to launch self-driving Ubers in San Francisco. We have looked at this issue carefully and we don’t believe we do. ”

The California DMV  issued this statement:

“The California DMV encourages the responsible exploration of self-driving cars. 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.”

In a blog post Uber thwarted the DMV’s state by posting, “Several cities and states have recognized that complex rules and requirements could have the unintended consequence of slowing innovation—– Our hope is that California, our home state and a leader in much of the world’s dynamism, will take a similar view.”

Meanwhile if you app for an UberX and if arrives with an engineer and a driver you may refuse get into a vehicle. Your privacy and safety are in jeopardy.

In response to the flagrant actions of Uber, Consumer Watchdog today called on San Francisco police to impound Uber’s robot cars operating without a permit on city streets and asked City Attorney Dennis Herrera to file criminal charges against Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

California Motor Vehicle Code requires a permit for testing autonomous vehicles in the state. Violating the Motor Vehicle Code can be a misdemeanor criminal offense, punishable by up to six months in jail.

“Uber is essential driving without a license and its CEO Kalanick should be treated like anyone else who does that,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “Kalanick’s willful violation of the law requires prompt response to protect the public’s safety There have already been reports of Uber’s robot cars running red lights in San Francisco. Prosecutors must hold Uber’s executives responsible for their company’s outrageous actions.”

Testing autonomous vehicles in California requires a permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Currently 20 companies have permits to test autonomous vehicles in the state, demonstrating that following the rules is no barrier to innovation, Consumer Watchdog said.

Among the DMV requirements are that the test driver behind a steering wheel be licensed and trained to operate the vehicle and a company must show insurance coverage of $5 million. Reports of any crashes must be filed, as well as an annual “disengagement” report spelling out circumstances when the self-driving technology failed and the human driver took control.

Important information about the state of the robot technology comes from the disengagement reports. For instance, Google’s driverless car unit, now renamed Waymo, said its self-driving technology failed 341 times in 425,000 miles – 272 times because the software couldn’t cope, turning over control to the test driver and 69 times when the driver decided to intervene for safety reasons. The next disengagement reports are due to be filed with the DMV Jan. 1, 2017.

“Uber is threating public safety and trying to avoid providing important information about its activities,” said Simpson. “Using public roads as your laboratory carries responsibilities. Uber is ignoring them and shamefully flouting important safety requirements. It must be stopped immediately.”

The fact the Uber doesn’t follow the letter of the law doesn’t seem to affect its relationship with advertisers such as Disney. It recently launched a Disney, an activation that transforms the Uber  rider app into a themed Rogue One: A Star Wars Story experience. The in-app experience, which Uber riders can opt-into, will unlock special Rogue One: A Star Wars Story features as well as access to exclusive video content.

Maybe the SFPD could wear Storm Trouper Armor while confiscating the Rogue Car Wars droids, cars that Uber claims can’t drive themselves.

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