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Uber's Back In San Francisco With Its Autonomous Fleet

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【Summary】Summary: After Uber’s fleet of autonomous Ford Fusions was kicked out of California, the ridesharing company is back in the state, but its vehicles are being used to gather mapping data and are not driving autonomously.

Vineeth Joel Patel    Jan 30, 2017 2:05 PM PT
Uber's Back In San Francisco With Its Autonomous Fleet

Towards the end of last year, Uber announced that it would be testing its fleet of autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, CA. California, though had different plans. The state has strict laws in place against companies and automakers conducting unsupervised testing. Even when Uber claimed that its vehicles weren't breaking the state's laws as an engineer was behind the wheel of every vehicle, California wasn't having any of it and revoked the registration for all of the company's 16 vehicles

After getting shunned away from California, Uber turned towards Arizona as the place to test its vehicles. Unlike California, Arizona is a little friendlier to companies, automakers, and manufacturers looking to test self-driving cars. Tesla, BMW, Honda, Google, Ford, and more currently have permits allowing them to test autonomous cars in the state. 

Uber's Back, But For Different Reasons

Now, Uber's fleet of self-driving Ford Fusions is back in San Francisco, but they're not driving themselves around anymore, reports USA Today

"These cars are being used for Uber's mapping purposes only," said Chelsea Kohler, an Uber spokesperson. "They are being driven manually at all times and their self-driving systems are disabled." The original fleet of Fusions that included a group of 16 vehicles strong has been reduced to just "a handful" of cars. 

"The DMV worked with Uber to reinstate the registrations for five vehicles – with the full understanding that the vehicles will be used in a mapping capacity only," wrote a DMV spokeswoman in an email to CNET. "Several companies in California use vehicles such as this for the same purpose." 

According to the report, Uber, last year, claimed that it was planning to pour various resources, including financial and human into developing its own mapping system. While the technology may seem like an insignificant part of self-driving vehicles, having its own mapping system would give the ridesharing company a leg up on the competition. By utilizing its own system, Uber's self-driving cars would be able to familiarize themselves with the streets and learn how to traverse unfamiliar roads, as well. 

Mapping Is Crucial

How big is mapping to Uber? Last year, a report from the Financial Times, reported that Uber was ready to spend up to $500 million on creating its own mapping system. 

As USA Today points out, Uber has taken more steps for its mapping system than unleashing its fleet of self-driving cars into San Francisco for a second time. The company hired Amit Singhal, who was a search veteran from Google, to head its maps and marketplace departments earlier this month. Singhal, who was named as senior vice president of engineering, will advise the company's head of autonomous driving and its CEO, too, reports USA Today

While the situation between Uber and California seems like a complicated, ongoing battle, California is more than happy to help Uber in the future. "Should Uber decide they want to revisit the issue of self-driving technology on the streets and roads in California, the offer to help them secure proper permitting stands," said the DMV spokeswoman. 

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