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After getting turned down by California, Uber heads to Arizona to test driverless cars

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【Summary】After facing a ban from state officials for testing driverless cars in San Francisco, Uber quickly responded last Thursday that it will be launching a new pilot program in Arizona.

Original Claire    Dec 26, 2016 3:00 PM PT
After getting turned down by California, Uber heads to Arizona to test driverless cars

After facing a ban from state officials for testing driverless cars in San Francisco, Uber quickly responded last Thursday that it will be launching a new pilot program in Arizona.

This was after the two parties failed to reach an agreement on whether or not Uber needs to apply for a special permit.

According to the DMV, registrations for Uber's vehicles participating in pilot progams were improperly issued because they were not marked appropriately as test cars. The bureau required Uber to apply for a special permit to legally drive in California, but Uber refused to compromise on the issue.

Currently, there are 20 companies approved for the permit, including major automakers and tech giants such as Google, Tesla, BMW, Honda, Ford and etc. Uber refused to go through the permit application by arguing that their driverless cars aren't fully autonomous, requiring a driver to sit behind the wheel.

"It's hard to understand why the DMV would seek to require self-driving Ubers to get permits when it accepts that Tesla's autopilot technology does not need them," Anthony Levandowski, the head of Uber's self-driving technology explained the company's position in a blog post. "We asked for clarification as to specifically what is different about our tech from the DMV, but have not received it."

After one of many talks, clearly both groups refused to give into each other's demands. The DMV announced last Wednesday that it cancelled the registration of Uber's 16 self-driving cars in San Francisco. Within just one day, an Uber spokeswoman wrote in an email statement that the cars used for testing departed that morning to Arizona by truck.

As seen from released photos, the silver Volvo SUVs, Uber's signature vehicles, were put onto a semi-truck owned by Otto, an autonomous truck startup acquired by Uber in August.

"We'll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks, and we're excited to have the support of Governor Ducey," the statement said.

Meanwhile, Arizona's Governor Doug Ducey warmly welcomed Uber's move and even posted on his personal Twitter account, criticizing California's ban on Uber's driverless project, saying "This is what over-regulation looks like!" with a "#DitchCalifornia" hashtag.

Apparently, Arizona wants to use its tech-friendly policies to attract more companies in the area. Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Timothy Tait also released a statement, saying that self-driving cars should be treated the same as any other vehicle in the state.

"We hope this cooperation and common-sense approach, combined with this state's favorable climate, encourage even more companies to test autonomous vehicles in Arizona," he wrote.

For Uber, this was not the first time it battled with government policy and public scrutiny. Past controversies about Uber drivers' criminal backgrounds and work benefits have yet to be resolved. For the driverless project, several reports revealed unsafe actions executed by Uber's driverless vehicles in San Francisco, with witnesses claiming that they saw the cars failing to stop at the request of traffic lights.

In response to such events, Uber reconfirmed that their cars are not fully autonomous and need a driver to control the vessel at all times—and therefore, they do not need a special permit in California.

The company launched its first pilot program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With Uber leaving San Francisco behind, its driverless project will take on new challenges in Arizona.

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