Uber is shipping its self-driving cars to Arizona after being forced out of SF


The company made the announcement after Arizona’s governor tweeted that the state welcomed innovation.

In the latest episode of Uber’s brush with the California DMV, the company announced that it is shipping the 16 self-driving cars it pulled off the streets of San Francisco to Arizona.

That announcement came just hours after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted that the state welcomed autonomous technology and that the company should #ditchCalifornia.

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“Our cars departed for Arizona this morning by truck,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”

On Wednesday, the company took its semi-autonomous Volvos off the streets of San Francisco after the DMV revoked the vehicles’ registrations. According to the DMV, Uber did not properly identify the cars as “test vehicles.”

Uber launched its self-driving pilot in San Francisco on Dec. 14, after which the DMV ordered the company to cease its operations until the vehicles got the permits required to test autonomous technology on public roads.

The company contended that it did not need to apply for the permit since its vehicles still needed a human to maintain some degree of control and were thus not fully autonomous.

In Arizona, Uber will join companies like Waymo and Ford, which are already testing self-driving cars in the state. Ducey is particularly friendly to self-driving technology and issued an executive order to establish a self-driving vehicle oversight committee in 2015.

Fortunately for Uber, it has already spent time mapping some of Arizona’s roads. In the months before Uber acquired self-driving trucking company Otto in August and put its co-founder, Anthony Levandowski, in charge of all of its self-driving efforts, Uber’s engineers were working on mapping Phoenix and other cities in the state, sources tell Recode.

One source said the company was aiming to begin testing in Arizona this winter, with plans to launch the pilot to consumers by spring.

Though it’s not clear why, those plans shifted and the company instead launched its second pilot in San Francisco.

This was not the first time launch plans shifted. Until late 2015, the company had planned to roll out the first series of Uber-enabled self-driving vehicles in Tucson, Ariz. — the home of Uber’s partner, the University of Arizona — not Pittsburgh, sources say.

The company partnered with the university in the summer of 2015, a few months after ransacking Carnegie Mellon’s famed robotics lab for talent. But Tucson proved to be a difficult test location due to a number of logistical issues.

Among them was that the environment — riddled with students, trolleys and bikes — was too complicated for the self-driving car to navigate, according to sources.

Uber’s autonomous technology had a similar problem navigating around bike lanes during its short time on the road in San Francisco. When the cars were in self-driving mode, the vehicles reportedly crossed bike lanes at the last minute when making a right turn rather than merging into the lane as is required by law.

But the company may have a bit of time to work out some of the kinks before it rolls out the Arizona pilot.

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