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Uber has fired back at California state regulators over demands that it halt testing of its self-driving cars in San Francisco. Head of the company’s advanced technology group and cofounder of autonomous trucking company Otto, Anthony Levandowski believes that it’s all a matter of perspective. He claimed that the state’s regulations apply to “autonomous vehicles,” while Uber is testing self-driving cars.

Here’s the difference: California defines autonomous vehicles as cars with technology that can “drive a vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring by a human operator.” But Levandowski stated that Uber’s vehicles cannot operate “without…active physical control or monitoring.”

“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,” he said in a statement published by the company. “We asked for clarification as to specifically what is different about our tech from the DMV, but have not received it.”

Levandowski goes on to state that Uber has discussed its testing with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) a number of times and even provided in-person demonstrations of its technology. The DMV’s reaction apparently surprised Uber, as he said that “they’ve known that self-driving Ubers have been on the streets of San Francisco over a month.”

If you’re thinking that the company is trying to skirt regulations — it has a reputation for steamrolling such obstacles in its efforts to dominate the on-demand ride market — Levandowski would disagree. He said that the difference between what the startup is doing and activity restricted by California law is “not a legal nicety,” and notes that there has been an “uneven application of statewide rules across very similar types of technology.”

Earlier this week, Uber announced that it had begun testing its self-driving cars on the streets of San Francisco, expanding from its first market of Pittsburgh. The idea was to bring the technology closer to the engineers building it at the company, while exposing the sensors and mapping to more complicated roadways and environments. However, the DMV put a stop to the operations hours later when it issued a letter informing Uber that it had to obtain a permit, just like other companies looking to test autonomous vehicle technology in the wild.


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