Two months after deploying self-driving cars to pick up customers in San Francisco with disregard that bordered on contempt for DMV permits, the company is abruptly hitting reverse. The San Jose Mercury News reports that the ride-hailing company, which moved its autonomous testing to Arizona after losing a week-long game of regulatory chicken with the City of San Francisco and the State of California when the DMV finally yanked the registration for 16 self-driving Uber vehicles, is now applying for the once-scorned permits already held by more than 20 competitors.
“We are taking steps to complete our application to apply for a DMV testing permit,” an Uber spokesperson told the Mercury News by email. Of course. the notoriously cocksure company already returned autonomous cars to the streets of San Francisco in January — the company insists those are just here for mapping purposes, not for testing or ferrying passengers.
Uber is seeking the green light from regulators less than a week after anonymous employees revealed that vehicle mishap from that December period, in which a car ran a red light near SFMOMA, was in fact the result of the car driving itself despite the company's prior insistence that a human driving the car made the error.
The move also comes as Uber issues vows to improve after female employees alleged they'd suffered harassment at the company and while CEO Travis Kalanick vows to "grow up" in a personal capacity, apologizing for his conduct in video that showed him arguing with an Uber driver over his payment and treatment.
“Uber hasn’t formally submitted their autonomous vehicle tester program application,” a DMV spokesperson tells the Mercury News, “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 may take as little as 72 hours to issue the permits, which cost $150 per vehicle.
In December, Uber vice president of self-driving technology Anthony Levandowski told CNet and other technology publications that it didn't need the permits it now seeks to obtain. "We cannot sign up to regulation for something that we are not doing," Levandowski said at the time, insisting that Uber intended to continue its operations in California and San Francisco as "California is our home state... its track record on innovation is second to none."
Levandowski came to Uber when the company acquired his self-driving truck startup, Otto, last summer. Otto's technology accelerated Uber's autonomous driving ambitions, which are transparently the ride-hailing company's long game. Yet a lawsuit filed in San Francisco just two weeks ago may come back to haunt Levandowski, who previously worked at Google on that company's self-driving car division, Waymo, now its own company under the Alphabet umbrella. That suit claims Uber engaged in a "concerted plan to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property." Waymo representatives wrote they "found that six weeks before his resignation this former employee, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo’s LiDAR and circuit board."