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Uber has put the brakes on its self-driving cars in California

Self-driving Uber cars were being tested in defiance of a state order to halt the programme.

An Uber driverless car waiting in traffic
An Uber driverless car waiting in traffic
Image: Eric Risberg/PA

UBER HAS PUT the brakes on self-driving cars in California because authorities in the US state yanked registration for vehicles being used for a pilot program.

Uber’s decision to take the autonomous cars off the streets in San Francisco ended a clash between the on-demand car service and California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

“We have stopped our self-driving pilot in California as the DMV has revoked the registrations for our self-driving cars,” San Francisco-based Uber said in a statement.

“We’re now looking at where we can redeploy these cars but remain 100 percent committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules.”

Self-driving Uber cars were being tested in defiance of a state order to halt the programme.

Uber Self Driving Cars Source: Eric Risberg

The ridesharing giant disputed the interpretation by the DMV that the cars require a special permit, saying they had the same autonomy capabilities as Tesla cars which have an optional “autopilot” feature.

Rules being ‘unevenly applied’

Anthony Levandowski, Uber’s vice president for advanced technologies, said last week that as with the Teslas, the cars driven by Uber still have a driver capable of assuming control at any time.

“We respectfully disagree with the California DMV’s interpretation of autonomous regulations, in particular that Uber needs a permit to operate in San Francisco,” Levandowski told a conference call with journalists.

While these are considered state of the art today, they still require monitoring by a vehicle operator at all times.

He argued that statewide rules regarding self-driving cars were being unevenly applied..

Levandowski said at the time that Uber hoped to convince the DMV that its autonomous cars were no different from Tesla’s, which allow a driver to turn over many operations to an onboard computer but still need a human behind the wheel.

Uber Self Driving Cars Anthony Levandowski with a driverless car Source: Eric Risberg/PA

“We have a person sitting in the driver’s seat, and there’s also a person next to them looking at the system and trying to confirm that everything is going well,” he said.

They are able to override and take control of the vehicle at any time.

State regulators countered that the testing programme lacked an autonomous vehicle testing permit required to protect public safety.

Conflict

During Uber’s brief standoff with the DMV, reports emerged that one of the cars had failed to stop for a red light, and that the vehicles were not giving proper deference to bicycle lanes when making turns.

Backers of autonomous vehicles say the technology can reduce more than 90% of accidents, which mostly are due to human error.

Since its debut in 2010, Uber has grown into a worldwide phenomenon despite regulatory hurdles and resistance from traditional taxi operators, which has happened in Ireland, where Uber is not as popular as in other countries.

In Ireland, Uber is currently treated like a dispatch operator, which means it is required to provide bookings only to a licensed driver using a licensed vehicle.

In practice, that means the company’s app can only be used to book taxis or chauffeur-driven cars, similar to Hailo, due to the effective ban on private drivers taking paying passengers. Uber has been lobbying for those laws to be changed.

In its latest funding round, Uber was valued at more than €57 billion, but has racked up losses at it expands and takes on competitors such as Lyft.

Additional reporting by Christine Bohan and Paul O’Donoghue

- © AFP, 2016

Read: Ireland to oppose Uber application to circumvent taxi regulations across EU

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