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 the program in Pittsburgh in September. The testing lets everyday people experience the cars as Uber works to identify glitches. This is 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. Uber says its cars already require a human backup.
 
Uber has a history of testing legal boundaries. The company has been around less than a decade. But 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. They even can 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 they 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 that supporters argue will save thousands of lives. That is 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. These are 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 (75)
  • jazminew-orv
    12/20/2016 - 01:57 p.m.

    I think it is cool that Uber has self-driving cars now, but i do think it should undergo test because anything can happen in a split second. If the car is in a clogged street that's going really fast and it just shuts down and there is a car that is just an small little inch behind you BAM! A collision has happened and the customer is hurt badly. Also if any of these accidents happen and a customer gets hospitalized in critical condition or just mildly hurt Uber can risk getting sued for being allegedly 'unsafe'.

  • 23cwreyn-
    12/21/2016 - 09:26 a.m.

    so people dont have to

  • chadm-orv
    12/21/2016 - 11:07 a.m.

    So people don't have to drive the car.

  • jamariw-orv
    12/21/2016 - 11:21 a.m.

    i think this idea is brilliant because some people may not feel comfortable with humans driving.

  • mcaitlin-dav
    1/03/2017 - 09:23 p.m.

    In response to "Uber self-driving cars hit the streets of San Francisco," I agree that Uber should have self-driving cars. One reason I agree is that, "The cars have been tricked out with sensors so that they can steer, accelerate, and brake," if a person weren't able to see a car stop, but the car would be able to. Another reason is that "Once testing is complete,the ultimate vision is to sell to the public technology that supporters argue will save thousands of lives," with the uber cars it will save lifes from cars accidents. My last reason is that "It doesn't drink, text,fall asleep or take dangerous risk," the car does pay attention at all times unlike the driver so it can ultimately save the drivers life. Even though the car can also make mistakes sometimes too, I think overall self-driving car by uber is safer.

  • lucienp-sch
    1/05/2017 - 08:42 a.m.

    Uber is interested in self-driving cars because of the things they could do. They are supposed to be safer than normal cars because they don't drink, text, or fall asleep behind the wheel. While the cars are supposed to be automatic, they will still need to be monitored by humans to help get out of situations in which the car cannot decide what to do. That way, if something such as a traffic jam were to happen, the human could steer into another lane to get by faster. In conclusion, Uber is trying to make a safer, better way to get around in cars for modern day.

  • willb323-sch
    1/05/2017 - 08:43 a.m.

    Human drink and text and fall asleep when driving.They wanted a car that could prevent that because obviously,a cars dont drink text or fall asleep. Uber probably wanted to make more while also helping humans driving.They want people to be safer while driving (but we all make mistakes).Thats why Uber is interested in self driving cars

  • carsong-sch
    1/05/2017 - 08:43 a.m.

    With a car tested and proven that it works by itself people may feel more comfortable this way than with an actual person driving the car.

  • martaa-sch
    1/05/2017 - 08:44 a.m.

    So people won't have to drive a car. Also, because people drink, text, fall asleep, and make dangerous decisions. Cars can't do that.

  • caitlyno-sch
    1/05/2017 - 08:44 a.m.

    They are inventing self driving cars because a lot of people aren't comfortable with getting into the car with a stranger, another reason is so people don't have to drive so if they develop it more, eventually people won't have to sit at the wheel so they don't have to pay employees.

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