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
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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 (99)
  • 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.

  • jeffreys1-sch
    1/05/2017 - 08:44 a.m.

    I think its a wonderful idea for the company but not the workers because once they develop the tech to be able to have self driving cars without drivers it will mean less american jobs and more cash flow to Uber. Safety is a big issue to because if a censor goes bad and the driver is not paying attention to the car it could mean some devastating crashes. Another thing is that if the passenger as intentions of breaking the car their will eventually be no one their to stop them which would cost Uber money

  • evanb2-sch
    1/05/2017 - 08:44 a.m.

    It will take make more people be able to stay at their homes and with their family's because they don't have to drive the car unless their is a emergency and self driving cars are probably more energy efficient and do all the same things that humans can do while driving a car only a bit worse. But self-driving cars are more likely to get in a accident or mess up. If these cars get in an accident then Uber can get really badly sued and humans have the brains to know what to do when there is a car that might hit them but a self-driving car does not know.

  • andrews46-sch
    1/05/2017 - 08:45 a.m.

    Because they think the cars are free from human faults like texting and falling asleep. The program would also make transportation faster by combining the intelligence of humans and the automatic driving sensors. This would mean if the sensors of the car got confused the human would take over making the ride safe again. This would also work if the human was not paying attention, the car would just keep driving automatically. And that is why I think Uber is interested in self-driving cars.

  • hansens-sch
    1/05/2017 - 08:46 a.m.

    They think it's a good idea for self driving cars for the future and I think its a good idea, but they are testing it without a permit from the government which is wrong and the idea could go wrong if they are not careful then it can mess up like how one test the car stopped in the middle of the road and the other test the car was in a traffic jam while the other lane was open.

  • rickg-sch
    1/05/2017 - 08:46 a.m.

    They are interested in self driving cars because there is a lower risk of danger. Self driving cars do not "sleep, drink, text, or take dangerous risks". Also because it is completely legal, its not allowed to be drove without a human monitoring. But, Uber will have a human monitoring. That's why they are interested in self driving cars

  • molliek-sch
    1/05/2017 - 08:46 a.m.

    One reason is because humans driving cars can be dangerous. So having a car that can drive it self will hopefully save lives. Another reason that they don't really say, but I assume is true is it may make people want to go and see the cars. So if people want to see they will pay money to go in it. It also is easier than picking people to drive cars.

  • addisonp-sch
    1/05/2017 - 08:46 a.m.

    One reason Uber is so interested in self driving cars is because it gets the attention of tech savvy people in each city.In the article it says "It is a move likely to excite the city's tech savvy population."(paragraph 1)Another reason uber is so interested in self driving cars is because it does do somethings humans do do.What I mean is the self driving car will not drink and drive,fall asleep at the wheel,or text."That is because it doesn't drink,text,fall asleep,or take dangerous risks." That are some reasons uber is so interested in self driving cars.

  • aidend-sch
    1/05/2017 - 08:46 a.m.

    Because they want to make more money. They would make more money if they charged the same price for a ride but they wont have to pay a driver if it is a self driving car. Also there will be far fewer crashes because the cars can't drink or text so there will be far fewer crashes. SO less people will get killed in car crashes each year.

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