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You can hire Uber's self-driving cars in SF starting today

With drivers behind the wheels.


Uber is bringing its self-driving technology to San Francisco. Now riders in the foggy city will (sometimes) have the option of getting picked up in one of Uber’s new near-autonomous cars.

Self-driving doesn’t mean driverless for Uber, though — not yet, anyway. For now, each of their self-driving vehicles will have not one but two operators along for the ride: One behind the wheel, poised to take over, and another in the passenger seat, collecting and analyzing data on the trip to improve the technology and the ride.

For the San Francisco self-driving rollout, Uber will use specially modified Volvo XC90s, which Uber worked on in collaboration with Volvo. The sports utility vehicle is equipped with seven cameras, as well as a fast-spinning lidar system on the top to constantly scan and analyze the moving environment. And Uber’s own self-driving technology is integrated into the Volvo XC90s.

Pittsburgh was the first city Uber brought its self-driving fleet to back in September. But unlike Pennsylvania, California requires autonomous vehicles to obtain a permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles to operate on public streets, which as of September Uber has not obtained, according to Business Insider.

But Uber’s cars may fall short of how the California DMV defines autonomous vehicles and therefore not require a permit.

In California, an autonomous vehicle is defined as having the capability of driving “without the active physical control or monitoring” of a person, according to a recent DMV policy document. Right now, Uber’s Volvos don’t work without a operator in the driver’s seat monitoring and (usually lightly) controlling the car.

Uber won’t say just how many self-driving cars are coming to California, but the company does hope to expand the program over time.

A ride in a self-driving Volvo will cost the same as an Uber X. The app will offer riders a chance to try it, if there’s a self-driving vehicle in their vicinity — but they will have to input their destination to receive the self-driving option, since the cars can’t leave San Francisco.

Update: The California DMV disagrees with Uber’s assessment that its cars don’t fall within the state’s definition of autonomous vehicles and thus don’t need a permit to operate. The DMV issued a statement this morning saying the multibillion dollar company will have to go through the $150 permit process, too.


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