Uber Has Ditched Its San Francisco Self-Driving Cars

The cars didn't have the correct permits.


Uber has suffered a setback in its bid to create a fully self-driving ridesharing service, after the California DMV revoked the test vehicle’s licenses in San Francisco. The DMV argues that the company should have applied for self-driving permits for its 16 vehicles. Uber maintains that, as the cars aren’t fully autonomous at this stage, there was no need for permits. Instead of applying for the permits though, Uber has decided to pull the plug entirely, just nine days after launch.

“We have stopped our self-driving pilot in California as the DMV has revoked the registrations for our self-driving cars,” Uber said in a statement published on Thursday. “We’re now looking at where we can redeploy these cars but remain 100 percent committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules.”

It’s early days, but Uber’s nascent program could pave the way for an entirely new business model, removing the driver from the equation. The San Francisco pilot program, which started on December 14 with 16 Volvo XC90s, was the second trial of the technology after a September launch in Pittsburgh. Users of the UberX service are chosen at random for the program, with a driver sat in the front seat to take over in case anything goes wrong. In the future, Uber could drop the driver altogether and move away from the “gig economy” model it’s used to make its name.

Uber came under fire recently when footage emerged of one of its San Francisco autonomous cars driving straight through a red light on the very first day of service. The company claims that the incident was “due to human error.” Tech blogger John Gruber has speculated that the phrasing of the statement could mean the computer was in control, but the human should have intervened.

The short-lived pilot program had a turbulent life, but Uber’s statement suggests it’s not quite ready to throw in the towel yet. Hopefully if the vehicles return to San Francisco, they come with the correct paperwork and fewer human errors.