Group demands DMV halt Uber unit’s self-driving trucks

Consumer Watchdog is asking California officials to revoke the registrations of the self-driving trucks being operated by an Uber unit and to seek charges against the subsidiary, which is called Otto.

Last August, Uber bought Otto, which at the time had 90 workers and was deemed by the ride-hailing service as a company that could revolutionize transportation. “Dream team” was how Uber described its teaming up with Otto.

“Together, we now have one of the strongest autonomous engineering groups in the world,” Uber said in the post about the acquisition. “Self-driving trucks and cars that are already on the road thanks to Otto and Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh” are among the benefits.

The joint efforts of the two companies are facing a challenge from Consumer Watchdog, however. The consumer group has asked the Department of Motor Vehicles to intervene.

“Consumer Watchdog calls on you to immediately revoke the registrations of the company’s robot trucks and seek appropriate charges against the company and its executives for its flagrant disregard of California law,” the consumer group said in a letter to Jean Shiomoto, the DMV’s director.

San Francisco-based Uber has reached out to the DMV regarding the truck-related regulations, the company said Thursday.

The consumer group noted in the letter that 21 companies have obtained permits to test self-driving vehicles in California. However, there are limitations to what sorts of vehicles can be tested.

“Self-driving vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds cannot be tested in the state under current regulations,” John Simpson, privacy project director with Consumer Watchdog, wrote in the letter to the DMV.  “Otto’s robot trucks fail on both counts. They have no permits and they weigh too much.”

Uber previously ran afoul of the DMV. During 2016, the company was testing self-driving vehicles in San Francisco and refused to obtain a permit for the tests. In December, Uber yanked the vehicles off the streets of San Francisco.

Consumer Watchdog wants the DMV to do more than revoke the registrations of the Otto vehicles.

“Otto’s activities are even more flagrant violations of the law than Uber’s were,” the consumer group claimed in the letter. “Because Otto’s behavior calls into question the honesty of Uber’s recent claims, you should revoke the registrations of its robot cars that have just returned to California.”


Photo: An Otto driverless truck at a garage in San Francisco in May 2016. (Eric Risberg/AP)


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