Uber’s Change of Heart: Company Seeking DMV Permit for Self-Driving Cars

The cameras on a pilot model of an Uber self-driving car are displayed at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh.

The cameras on a pilot model of an Uber self-driving car are displayed at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh. (Angelo Merendino/AFP-Getty Images)

Updated Friday, 11:25 a.m.

Uber has had a change of heart. The ride-service company has decided to seek a state permit to test autonomous vehicles after all.

That decision, first reported Thursday by Marisa Kendall of the Bay Area News Group, comes two months after Uber launched a small fleet of self-driving cars onto the streets of San Francisco.

The move also brought into the open the company’s fight — detailed earlier this week by The Verge — with the California Department of Motor Vehicles about whether it needed to get a state permit.

The DMV prevailed in that battle, forcing Uber to shut down its San Francisco pilot after just a week. With great fanfare, the company put its self-driving SUVs on flatbed trucks and shipped them to Arizona.

At the time, the DMV said publicly what emails obtained by The Verge show it had been saying to Uber for months privately: The state will help expedite the application process so you can proceed with autonomous vehicle testing.

The company had maintained, both in its behind-the-scenes back-and-forth with the DMV and its public statements when the San Francisco pilot started, that its vehicles did not meet the state’s definition of “autonomous.”

When it pulled the cars off the streets, Uber said in a statement that the company was “100 percent committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop statewide rules.”

An Uber spokesperson said in an email Friday the company is working with the DMV to submit an autonomous vehicle application following the agency’s reinstating registrations for two self-driving cars that had been parked in San Francisco since December. Those vehicles are now being driven manually, the company says, reportedly as part of a mapping project.

The spokesperson said Uber plans to resume operating autonomous vehicles in the city, but doesn’t have a firm timeline for their return to public streets.

The Department of Motor Vehicles said via email: “Uber hasn’t formally submitted their autonomous vehicle tester program application, but just as we would with any other manufacturer, the DMV is providing assistance with the steps necessary to apply for and receive a test permit.”

The DMV has approved 23 companies — ranging from major automakers to Nvidia, best known for its graphics processing hardware — to conduct autonomous vehicle testing in the state.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

Email Dan at: dbrekke@kqed.org

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