Uber's path towards a ride-hailing network of autonomous cars got off to a smooth start in Arizona on Tuesday. The mobility company began offering rides in its fleet of self-driving XC90s to customers in the Tempe area—and this time, state lawmakers are on board with this still-experimental technology.
Why Uber Moved Autonomous Vehicles to Arizona
The mobility company relocated its autonomous car pilot program from San Francisco to Arizona late last year. The vehicle registrations for Uber's self-driving vehicles were revoked by the California Department of Motor Vehicles after it refused to obtain an autonomous vehicle testing permit (AVT). All companies testing autonomous vehicles must obtain the $150 permit, which requires a $5 million insurance policy or bond and the submission of "disengagement reports" that detail instances when the driver needed to take control of the vehicle.
Uber unsuccessfully argued that its vehicles technically weren't autonomous, since a driver's presence and oversight was required to operate them. Rather than comply with California's regulations, the company sent its fleet of self-driving cars to Arizona, which has aggressively been courting companies such as Lucid Motors to set up shop in the southwestern state. Waymo and General Motor's Cruise Automation also test their autonomous technology the Phoenix-Scottsdale area.
Arizona governor eager to attract technology companies
Governor Doug Doucey, who lobbied the company on Twitter to bring the program to his state following the spat with California officials, was among the first to experience the autonomous ride-hailing service. When the company relocated the self-driving fleet to Tempe, Governor Ducey issued a statement welcoming Uber:
“Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads. While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses. In 2015, I signed an executive order supporting the testing and operation of self-driving cars in Arizona with an emphasis on innovation, economic growth, and most importantly, public safety. This is about economic development, but it’s also about changing the way we live and work. Arizona is proud to be open for business. California may not want you, but we do.”
How autonomous Ubers work
Tempe Uber customers requesting rides may be matched with an autonomous Uber, but although the vehicle will be doing the navigating and driving, two Uber engineers will still be on board monitoring the system and ready to take control of the wheel if need be. In San Francisco, the ride-hailing company's self-driving Ford Fusions and Volvo XC90s were recorded running red lights and failing to merge into bike lanes while executing right-hand turns.
Uber didn't explain which ride requests or customers may be paired with autonomous vehicle, or if users had the opportunity or option to decline to participate in the pilot. The Drive reached out to Uber with questions but did not hear back by the time of publication.