You thought we were rid of them when they got hauled off to Arizona last month, but Uber's self-driving cars are back on SF streets after barely a month. As CNet reports, the company has brought five of the autonomous Volvos back to the city "for mapping," which of course suggests that Uber is hoping to relaunch them for passenger use here at some point, and it's just a matter of when. And, Uber promises, they all have drivers inside when you see them.
An Uber spokesperson told CNet, "These cars are being used for Uber's mapping purposes only. They are being driven manually at all times and their self-driving systems are disabled."
Uber was finally convinced last month, after a week of freewheeling law-breaking and stern words from the mayor and many others, to yank the autonomous vehicles off of San Francisco streets, where they'd suddenly and surprisingly started picking up passengers on December 14. And Uber only did so after the DMV revoked the registrations for all 16 of the cars.
The company had been trying to argue that the cars did not require special permits from the state because they were never technically operating without a driver in control. Essentially, because they required a driver to monitor them and take control when necessary, they were making the case that the cars were just like every other car on the road, only with crazy contraptions on top that are its artificial intelligence eyes and ears.
Uber did not want to classify the Volvos as test vehicles, clearly hoping to beat other companies to market in providing autonomous-vehicle taxi services. As the Business Times notes today, about 20 other companies have gotten permits for their own test vehicles from the California DMV.
So, if you see one of these strangely topped cars riding around with an Uber logo, there's nothing to see there. It's just doing mapping stuff. Only you might want to get out of its way if it's approaching a red light.