Is Uber Trying To Pull Off Corporate Gymnastics Once Again?

Uber has got themselves into a bit of a wrangle with the authorities over the San Francisco launch of their driverless cars.

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Following earlier announcements that they were launching “self-driving” cars in their San Francisco hometown, they soon started a bit of back peddling. They quickly changed their tune to explain that the vehicles still needed a human operator. So, not quite so self-driving after all. The change of their message came after the California Department of Motor Vehicles pointed out that they had not complied with California state regulations requiring special permits for the use of this new technology.

In a December 14 press statement, Uber proudly announced that their self-driving cars would soon be available in California. The press release said: “We’re incredibly excited to work with Volvo to pair our state-of-the-art self-driving technology with Volvo’s outstanding vehicle development and core safety capabilities.” However, on the day before the launch, the California DMV release a statement that twenty manufacturers had been granted the necessary permits for driverless cars and Uber was required to do likewise.

The regulation has been in effect for 2 years already. After the DMV refused to waiver, Uber changed the story to explain that the technology was not quite “self-driving”. They released the following statement on December 16: “From a technology perspective, self-driving Ubers operate in the same way as vehicles equipped with advanced driver assist technologies, for example Tesla auto-pilot and other OEM’s traffic jam assist. This type of technology is commonplace on thousands of cars driving in the Bay Area today, without any DMV permit at all.”

So suddenly the technology being launched went from “state-of-the-art,” to something that is “commonplace on thousands of cars.” Nice one Uber. A spokesperson for Uber tried, in a bit of corporate doublespeak, to explain that technology can well be commonplace and state-of-the-art at the same time. Nice try guys. So, after not complying, the DMV revoked the vehicles registrations on December 21. In an e-mail statement, the department had this to say: “Uber is welcome to test its autonomous technology in California like everybody else through the issuance of a testing permit that can take less than 72 hours to issue after a completed application is submitted.”

“The department stands ready to assist Uber in obtaining a permit as expeditiously as possible.” Uber responded by taking the cars to Arizona, refusing to concede that a permit was necessary. Stubborn folks, they should know better than to try and take on the DMV. The permit costs a mere $ 150. I am sure it is frustrating when government red tape slows the growth of technology and development but sometimes you just have to play by their rules. We wait to see what the future holds for this technology in San Francisco.