There seems to be a discrepancy between what Uber says it does and what it actually does. An internal memo revealed that Uber tests its autonomous big rigs on California highways - even though it tells state authorities otherwise.
If there's a time to decide not to test autonomous vehicles on public roads, it's with big rigs and semi-trailers, which weigh a lot more than cars, and often cause more damage in a crash. At least, you'd want some level of oversight to ensure a reasonable level of safety, which is why the California Highway Patrol and the DMV plan to make an "unscheduled" stop on Uber's campus.
As Matt Drange alludes to in Forbes, CHP and DMV are miffed that Uber had earlier refused to apply for permitting, and want to see for themselves just what's happening behind the wheel of a semi equipped with autonomous technology.
The Internal Uber Memo
In February, Uber apparently told state regulators that it did not operate its big rigs autonomously on public roads. But an internal memo shows otherwise: Apparently its trucks "drive the highways surrounding San Francisco on a daily basis."
This begs the question: Who is doing the driving, man or machine?
Uber could face a legal problem: Drange points out that California law does not allow the testing of self-driving vehicles on public roads when those vehicles weigh more than 10,000 pounds.
In Uber's Defense
Tech evangelists and those who believe in the coming miracle of self-driving cars (and it may very well be a miracle, if crashes become near to nonexistent) may have 100% faith that the superhuman algorithms powering our Google searches will make far better drivers than humans.
And, practically speaking, the way in which Uber appears to conduct testing may be quite safe, despite its questionable legality: Apparently, there's a driver, a co-driver, and an easy way to disengage from autonomous driving, such as by taking control of the wheel.
But "apparently" isn't good enough, which explains CHP's and DMV's surprise visit.