Uber Brings Driverless Cars Back to California

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SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The California Department of Motor Vehicles issued a permit for self-driving cars to Uber Wednesday, representing yet another step toward diffusing the strident battle the ride-hail giant fought against its home state last December.

The permit will allow for the testing of two driverless vehicles – 2017 Volvo XC90s – the same cars involved in last year’s fracas between the DMV and the ride-hail company.

“I can confirm that the DMV has approved our permit application and that we are not planning to resume our pilot with passengers, nor are our cars back on the roads today,” an Uber representative said in an email.

Uber also reiterated its commitment to California, backpedaling somewhat on its pointed comments last year when it accused the Golden State of stifling innovation.

In early December 2016, Uber announced it has put about 16 driverless cars into circulation in San Francisco, where the company is headquartered.

The announcement was met with a swift rebuke from the DMV, which said Uber needed a permit for its driverless cars and accused the company of playing fast and loose with public safety.

Uber said it believed it had sidestepped the need for permits by having a human in the car monitoring the computer driver’s performance.

The DMV disagreed and threatened to sue, at which point Uber pulled the cars from San Francisco and reportedly shipped them to Arizona.

However, Uber’s recent announcement to seek and obtain the necessary permit comes on the heels of a turbulent month for the company, whose CEO Travis Kalanick was videotaped denigrating an Uber driver after being challenged about pay.

That happened after a former engineer claimed the company failed to follow up on sexual harassment allegations and generally abetted and even encouraged a hostile work environment.

Kalanick pledged to “get leadership help,” and reports persist that the company is in the midst of hiring a COO.

The California Consumer Watchdog blasted Uber in a statement Wednesday, saying its decision to put driverless cars on the road late last year was foolhardy and dangerous.

Multiple reports said one of the driverless cars ran a red light in front of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and failed to make right turns in a manner consistent with the safety of bicyclists.

“Now that Uber has permits to test, the company’s activities must be closely monitored by police,” said John Simpson, the Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director. “What is clear is that Uber must not use passengers as human guinea pigs as part of a publicity stunt.”

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