There is a right way and a wrong way when it comes to testing autonomous vehicles on public roads. Uber has demonstrated the wrong way.
Yesterday, the company launched eleven driverless Volvo XC90s in San Fransisco as part of a pilot program. But by late morning, two of the eleven vehicles were running amok. The San Fransisco Examiner got their hands on a dash cam video showing one of the XC90s running a red light at 10:37 A.M. Later that morning, a freelance producer and writer tweeted “Just passed a ‘self-driving’ Uber that lurched into the intersection on Van Ness [Avenue], on a red, nearly hitting my Lyft.”
“It was close enough that both myself and the driver reacted and were like, ‘Shit. It stopped suddenly and stayed like that, as you see in the photo,” said Annie Gaus to the Examiner.
Because of these incidents, the California Department of Motor Vehicles ordered Uber to halt the program.
In a statement obtained by The Truth About Cars, Uber said the incident on video was due to human error and not the technology.
“This incident was due to human error. This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers. This vehicle was not part of the pilot and was not carrying customers. The driver involved has been suspended while we continue to investigate.”
Not the most reassuring statement considering said vehicle looks like one from the pilot program. At the moment, Uber has drivers in the self-driving vehicles to control them in case of an issue.
But there is a bigger problem at hand. Uber did not have the permit to legally have their autonomous vehicles on the road. A press release on Uber's Newsroom announcing the program said they didn't need one. Here are the paragraphs in question,
"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. Before you think, “there they go again” let us take a moment to explain:
First, we are not planning to operate any differently than in Pittsburgh, where our pilot has been running successfully for several months. Second, the rules apply to cars that can drive without someone controlling or monitoring them. For us, it’s still early days and our cars are not yet ready to drive without a person monitoring them."
Unsurprisingly, the California DMV is not happy with Uber and threaten legal action if Uber did not halt the program and obtain the permit.
“If Uber does not confirm immediately that it will stop its launch and seek a testing permit, the DMV will initiate legal action,” wrote DMV attorney Brian Soublet in a letter sent Anthony Levandowski, who heads Uber’s autonomous car program.
This isn't the first time Uber's autonomous program has found itself in hot water. Back in September, Quartz reported on the issues Uber was having with their autonomous program in Pittsburgh from a vehicle going the wrong way down a one-way street to a minor accident.