By rolling out a small fleet of self-driving vehicles in San Francisco without first getting a permit from the California DMV, Uber reverted to an old habit and played chicken with regulators.
It lost decisively on Wednesday when California yanked the registrations on the vehicles, forcing Uber to pull them off the road.
Rather than simply concede defeat on this one and do what every other automaker testing or planning to test autonomous technologies in California has done in applying for a permit and ponying up the pro forma $150 fee, Uber declared that it would seek a legislative solution.
“Uber suggested Wednesday it would try to shape future regulation instead of filing the paperwork,” Bloomberg’s Eric Newcomer reported.
“‘We’re now looking at where we can redeploy these cars but remain 100 per cent committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules,'” Newcomer added, citing an Uber statement that was also provided to Business Insider.
That’s an astonishing move by the company. First flout the law, then when the law comes back at you hard, declare that you intend to change it rather than abide by it. And double-down by implying that the rules everyone else is peacefully abiding by aren’t workable.
The contrast between how badly Uber botched the rollout of its California fleet could not be more vivid with how it triumphantly — and legally — introduced its advance self-driving systems in Pittsburgh earlier this year. To make matters worse, the startup, valued at over $60 billion, drew its automaking partner, Volvo, into the mess.
The autonomous vehicles in San Francisco were Volvo XC90 SUVs, while the cars in Pittsburgh were Ford Fusion sedans.
“Volvo’s roll in this project is to provide engineering collaboration and support on the vehicles,” a Volvo spokesperson told Business Insider.
“Uber is conducting the test and is responsible for where the pilots take place. As a result, we do not have any insight into Uber’s interaction with state agencies or the requirements to run pilots where they have chosen.”
Silicon Valley has for a long time pushed its luck with cherished legalities. Microsoft ran afoul of antitrust laws, and more recently, Facebook has been anything but conscientious when it comes to the privacy of its users.
But Uber has taken matters to a new level. The ins-and-outs of who owns a status update and how much user data can be shared with marketers is one thing; putting thousands of pounds of metal on the road and letting it drive itself is another.
Uber has developed a compelling ride-hailing platform and with its Pittsburgh experiment, the company has changed how we think about our autonomous transportation future, almost overnight. But CEO Travis Kalanick’s startup also deals, more than any other gamechanger, in the world of things.
Those things can hit 100 mph without breaking a sweat and when they collide with each other, the results can be fatal for anyone inside. Anyone outside barely stands a change. It’s simple physics.
That’s exactly why there are laws around what cars can and can’t do. Self-driving is a brave new world, so lawmakers and regulators are playing catch-up. Uber clearly doesn’t like this.
But we wouldn’t allow a 16-year-old behind the wheel without first demanding some testing and training. Computers might ultimately be able to drive better than people, but until the early results are in, the pioneers in this important area should play scrupulously by the rules.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.