Saturday, December 17, 2016

Uber Tells California It Won't Be Applying For An Autonomous Driving Permit, California Tells Uber The State's Attorney General Will Be In Touch

Some observers have postulated that one reason Uber is defying the state is the permit requirement that in exchange for being able to test on the public roads they would have to turn over data to the state including data on accidents.
Which, if you think about it, is a bit ironic considering how much data Uber collects on their passengers.
It's also an excellent shorthand for the mindset at the top levels of the company.

First up, the c|net, Dec. 16 to catch us up:

Uber keeps self-driving cars on the road, challenging the law
The ride-hailing company brushes off California DMV, announcing it won't pull its autonomous cars from San Francisco streets. Now the state's attorney general is getting involved.
Uber and the state of California are in a standoff.
After Uber rolled out its self-driving cars to passengers in San Francisco on Wednesday, California's Department of Motor Vehicles told the ride-hailing company it was breaking the law and had to take its cars off the streets and get a permit.

Uber kept mum for two days, but has broken its silence.

"The cars are on the road today," Anthony Levandowski, Uber's vice president of self-driving technology, said in a conference call with reporters on Friday. "We're intending to continue."
Which, in turn, prompted a letter from California's Office of the Attorney General to Uber saying the company must "immediately remove its self-driving vehicles from California public roadways until it obtains the appropriate permit" or else the attorney general "will seek injunctive and other appropriate relief."

Uber made its name by pairing passengers with drivers via a phone app. Over the past six years, it's grown from small startup to multinational company with operations in more than 400 cities in 72 countries. The company has a history of launching products and features before getting the required permits. And, Uber's rollout of self-driving cars in San Francisco is no different. But, in doing so, lawmakers worry the company could be forsaking public safety and transparency.

Uber says the reason why it's not getting the permit is because the law doesn't apply to its self-driving cars. The company says that because humans constantly monitor its vehicles while driving and can take over control at any time, they aren't yet autonomous vehicles. Uber also says its self-driving cars aren't yet "capable" of driving without monitoring or active physical control.

"While these are considered state of the art today, they still require monitoring by a vehicle operator at all times," Levandowski said during the conference call. "We believe they are no different than any other car on the road today."...MORE
The problem with that as legal reasoning is that Uber is still subject to the traffic laws that say the driver has to be in control of their vehicle, it's why a traffic cop can pull your 16-year old over for driving "hands-free".

Uber's most recent large acquisition, Otto, the autonomous trucking Co. did the same defy-the-law-and-don't-make-the-info-public thing in Nevada, see Backchannel's:

How Otto Defied Nevada and Scored a $680 Million Payout from Uber
The engineer who helped craft Nevada’s self-driving car regulations also ended up blowing past them.

Finally, the usually fashion-forward Los Angeles Times editorial board makes the simple realpolitik argument about the $150.00 (yes, $150, so it's probably not the money, except it's all about money) permit:

If Uber doesn’t like California's rules, it can test its driverless cars elsewhere
Uber is at it again. The company, famous (or notorious, depending on your point of view) for flouting regulations as it built its disruptive, multi-billion-dollar business, rolled out a fleet of autonomous cars in San Francisco this week despite an explicit warning from the Department of Motor Vehicles that testing on public roads was illegal without a permit.

Never mind that 20 of Uber’s competitors in the race to develop autonomous cars have followed the California DMV’s rules and gotten testing permits. Never mind that new federal guidelines for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles anticipate that car companies will get a state’s permission before testing driverless technology on its public roads. Never mind that Uber’s executives were told by DMV officials before the launch that the company would need a permit to operate its autonomous vehicles.

Instead, Uber — in typical Uber fashion — found an apparent loophole in California’s rules and chose to drive its driverless vehicles right through it. The regulations say a permit is required if the vehicle can drive itself “without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person.” Defending the decision to forgo a permit, an Uber executive wrote in a blog post that “it’s still early days and the company’s cars are not yet ready to drive without a person monitoring them.”

Of course they aren’t, but that’s not the point. No autonomous vehicle, including those covered by testing permits, can be driven in the state without a human monitor. The state requires that an operator sit behind the wheel during testing, ready to take control at any time. Why? Because the technology is unproven, and state regulators don’t believe it’s ready for uncontrolled operation on public streets — which is why California created, with industry input, a permitting process.

DMV officials didn’t buy Uber’s argument, nor should they have. Less than a day into Uber’s new venture, the DMV threatened legal action if the company didn’t halt testing. But Uber has refused to back down, insisting again on Friday that the “driverless” Ubers it has touted do not need permits because they are not really driverless, but rather vehicles equipped with advanced driver-assist technologies.

Uber built its business by challenging regulators and entrenched assumptions about how best to assure public safety. It successfully evaded the strict local rules that the taxi industry faces on fares, licenses and driver background checks by arguing that smartphone-summoned rides were different from taxis and should be regulated under new state standards. It has also avoided a variety of mandates on employers by classifying its drivers as independent contractors, not employees....MORE
See also:
Uber Rolls Out S.F. Self-Driving Cars, California Says Uber Needs A Permit For Autonomous, Uber Says No, It Doesn't, California Says...
"Uber to put self-driving cars on the road in SF 'very soon'
Congressman Asks Airbnb to Drop Arbitration Clause. PLUS: You're Down to 5 Days To Opt Out Of Uber's New Terms and Conditions