Uber self-driving cars hit the streets of San Francisco In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, Anthony Levandowski, head of Uber's self-driving program, speaks about their driverless car in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Uber self-driving cars hit the streets of San Francisco
Lexile

Uber is bringing a small number of self-driving cars to its ride-hailing service in San Francisco. It is a move likely to excite the city's tech-savvy population. It also is certain to antagonize California regulators.
 
The launch in Uber's hometown expands a public pilot program the company started in Pittsburgh in September. The testing lets everyday people experience the cars as Uber works to identify glitches before expanding the technology's use in San Francisco and elsewhere.
 
California law, however, requires a test permit for self-driving prototype vehicles. Uber does not have one. The company argues that the law doesn't apply because its cars require a human backup.
 
Uber has a history of testing legal boundaries. Although the company has been around less than a decade, it has argued with authorities around the world about how much of its drivers' histories should be covered in background checks. And, whether those drivers should be treated as contractors ineligible for employee benefits.
 
Uber's self-driving tests in San Francisco will begin with a "handful" of Volvo luxury SUVs. The company wouldn't release an exact number. The cars have been tricked out with sensors so they can steer, accelerate and brake, and even decide to change lanes. The cars will have an Uber employee behind the wheel. That individual would take over should the technology fail. Users of the app may be matched with a self-driving car. But can opt out if they prefer a human driver. Self-driven rides cost the same as ordinary ones.
 
The cars will be put to the test in the congested streets of San Francisco. Uber believes its technology is ready to handle all this safely. Its executives do concede the vehicles are nowhere near able to drive without a human ready to take control in dicey situations.
 
There was room for improvement during a test drive attended by The Associated Press. The car was destined for a local pizza parlor. It didn't pull directly in front of the restaurant. Instead, it stopped in the middle of the street. The cars may strike some riders as over-cautious, too. During the test drive, one idled in a traffic jam even though an adjacent lane was clear. That prompted the human driver to make the move himself.
 
Once testing is complete, the ultimate vision is to sell to the public technology which supporters argue will save thousands of lives because it doesn't drink, text, fall asleep or take dangerous risks.
 
Under state law, self-driving tests on public roads require a permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The department has issued permits to 20 companies, mostly a collection of traditional automakers and tech companies - but not Uber.
 
Uber argues that its cars aren't really autonomous, and thus aren't covered by the law. Under the law, an "autonomous vehicle" requires a permit if it can drive itself "without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person."
 
According to Anthony Levandowski, the leader of Uber's self-driving program, Uber's cars simply aren't advanced enough to drive themselves without human monitoring. Therefore, the Volvos are not autonomous and do not require a permit.
 
In a statement, the DMV noted that 20 companies have permits to test hundreds of cars in California.
 
"Uber shall do the same," the statement said.
 
Operating without a permit arguably gives Uber a competitive advantage. Companies with one must report to the state all crashes and every instance in which a person takes control during testing. All that information is public. To receive a permit, a company must show proof of insurance, pay a $150 fee and agree that a human driver can take control of the vehicle.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is Uber so interested in self-driving cars?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (39)
  • carmenh-orv
    12/21/2016 - 11:05 a.m.

    Uber is so interested in self-driving cars because it can be safer for the passengers.

  • hcicily-dav
    1/03/2017 - 09:03 p.m.

    I think "Uber self-driving cars hit the streets of San Francisco" is a very fascinating article. This shows how evolved our technology is getting and how lazy we are getting also. But I think these new Uber self driving cars are really cool and they will be very useful and helpful. Although, they could be dangerous because if something happened and the car was in control then you would not be able to do anything about it. "The cars will have an Uber employee behind the wheel." This is a good idea that there would be a Uber employee to take over if something were to happen because you can't fully rely on technology because anything can happen. In conclusion, I think these new cars will be a good addition if they are safe.

  • jakef-mac
    1/04/2017 - 08:20 a.m.

    I agree with uber and I think that self driving cars are the future. I also think that once they work out the problems, this will be much more popular and useful.

  • jcharles-dav
    1/04/2017 - 04:14 p.m.

    I think Uber is smart when they want to incorporate self driving cars to Uber. Now one bad thing about this is people would be put out of work and they would haft to find another job. But by using self driving cars they can keep things in better balance. This would also be a big step in potentially getting self driving cars to the public. Which could make it easier and safer to drive on roads.

  • pjack-dav
    1/04/2017 - 06:33 p.m.

    In response to "Uber's self driving car" disagree that they should be allowed. One reason is it gives jobs to more people not to machines. Another reason I disagree is it can be very hard for people to trust a car that is driven by a car. It says in the article that The Department of Motor Vehicles is not allowing the cars to be licensed. I agree with the DMV because the self driving is better off being used for an emergency rather than a day to day basis. Even though it is very popular, I think it is unsafe and not reliable.

  • pjack-dav
    1/04/2017 - 06:39 p.m.

    In response to "Uber's Self-driving car" I disagree that they should be allowed to use them. One reason I disagree is they can be unreliable. The article said they DMV did not give Uber permission because the car wouldn't be able to react in dicey situations. Another reason is they can be unsafe and disfunction at any time. Even though it is pretty cool, I think it is better to rely on humans to drive cars not computers.

  • eharlan-dav
    1/05/2017 - 04:08 p.m.

    In response to "Uber self-driving cars hit the streets of San Francisco" I disagree that Uber cars should be self-driving. One reason I disagree is that it will limit the amount of jobs available for people to have. In the article it says "There was room for improvement during a test drive attended by The Associated Press. The car was destined for a local pizza parlor. It didn't pull directly in front of the restaurant. Instead, it stopped in the middle of the street". That quote supports that Uber's self-driving cars can be dangerous and could possibly malfunction and injury or put the passenger in danger. Even though this would help save Uber money, I think the peoples safety and employment are more important.

  • hlily-dav
    1/05/2017 - 04:43 p.m.

    In response to "Uber self-driving cars hit the streets of San Francisco," I agree that Uber should be allowed to use it's new vehicles. One reason I agree is that self-driving cars could be safer for humans. I think this because a self-driven car doesn't drink, text, or fall asleep while driving, unlike many people. Another reason I think they should be allowed to,even without a permit,is because the cars aren't fully self-driven yet. It says in the article, "According to Anthony Levandowski, the leader of Uber's self-driving program, Uber's cars simply aren't advanced enough to drive themselves without human monitoring. Therefore, the Volvos are not autonomous and do not require a permit." A third reason I believe they should be able to use self-driving cars is that self-driving cars are the future. After this new advancements in technology can be made, that can better the lives of many people. Although, technology might not be advanced enough to has true self-driven cars, I believe Uber has the right to try.

  • cjoseph-dav
    1/05/2017 - 06:29 p.m.

    In response to "this article," I agree/disagree that the self driving uber cars will be put to the test in the streets of San Francisco. One reason I agree/disagree is that the car can glitch. Another reason is that Uber believes its technology is ready to handle all this safely. It says in the article that Uber's cars simply aren't advanced to drive themselves they need a human monitoring it. A third reason is that the Volvos aren't autonomous and don't require a permit. Even though I think that the self driving ubers cool, I also think they are a little dangerous.

  • bolivia-dav
    1/05/2017 - 07:13 p.m.

    In response to "Uber self-driving cars hit the streets of San Francisco" I disagree that these cars don't need a permit. One reason I disagree is that I believe the company should report every crash, even without a permit. Also there are humans behind the wheel encase of a failure, is the company possible saying that the car could fail? It says in the article, "It didn't pull directly in front of the restaurant. Instead, it stopped in the middle of the street." Another reason is these cars could hit people if they stopped in the middle of the street like the test car did. Even though the Uber company believes these cars are completely safe, I think that these cars could be dangerous.

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