Uber requested to halt its new self-driving Volvo pilot in San Francisco


Uber, the ride-sharing technology company, is expanding its self-driving pilot to San Francisco, California, using specially converted self-driving Volvo XC90 premium SUVs. However, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has asked Uber to halt the program until it has applied for, and received, the necessary permits.

The California State Department of Justice has now followed up the DMV’s request with an order from the Attorney General’s office that Uber would be subject to legal action unless it stops its tests and gains the appropriate permit.

The pilot marks the next phase in a deepening alliance between Volvo and Uber after the two companies signed an agreement in August to establish a jointly owned project to build base vehicles that can be used to develop fully autonomous driverless cars. These cars were initially tested in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The latest cars to be used in San Francisco have been built by Volvo and sold to Uber, after which Uber’s own self-driving hardware and software package has been added, most visibly in the roof-mounted control apparatus. The cars will drive around the streets of San Francisco autonomously, but as part of the pilot program they will at all times have an Uber technician on board to supervise the car’s operation.

• The alliance with Uber forms one element of Volvo’s three-part plan to develop autonomous driving (AD) technologies:

• In January 2017, Volvo will begin a project entitled Drive Me, which will be the world’s largest autonomous driving test in which up to 100 AD cars will be given to members of the public to be driven on real roads around Gothenburg, Sweden. Their experiences will be used to co-develop Volvo’s AD cars;

• The second part is a joint venture with Autoliv, the leading automotive safety technology company, to set up a new jointly owned company to design and manufacture separately branded AD and driver-assistance software technology packages for sale to third-party OEMs. The new company will have its headquarters in Gothenburg, and an initial workforce taken from both companies of around 200, increasing to more than 600 in the medium term. The company is expected to start operations in the beginning of 2017;

• The third part is the ongoing relationship with Uber to build and co-develop base vehicles for AD cars. This deal reduces Volvo’s development costs, gives it a chance to develop cutting-edge technology, and could ultimately boost sales significantly. Volvo and Uber are contributing a combined US$300m to the project, and both companies will use the same base vehicle for the next stage of their own autonomous car strategies.

“The promise of self-driving ride sharing is becoming a reality,” said Mårten Levenstam, vice president product planning at Volvo Cars. “We are proud to be at the forefront of the latest developments in the automotive world alongside our partners at Uber.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).