Uber's self-driving vehicles have hit the streets of San Francisco as shown in recent snapshots and video footage taken by the public, which have surfaced on social media in no time.
The latest development in Uber's testing of its self-driving cars can be expected to send the rumor mill to a frenzied state, especially with the indication that the ride-sharing company could be deploying the automated vehicles in the city after its successful pilot launch in Pittsburgh. The more important question, however, at this point is that whether such an activity is legal.
As of this writing, Uber does not have the legal right to test its self-driving vehicles in California, as told by the state's Department of Motor Vehicles to Business Insider.
Now, this does not mean that Uber is violating the law.
One account of the San Francisco sightings, for example, revealed that someone is behind the wheel when the photograph was captured. This could indicate that the vehicle is not using the autonomous mode. There was also a video that showed how the driver's hands were on the wheels as the vehicle passed by.
A video posted by erictaganhooten (@erichooten) on Sep 20, 2016 at 7:25pm PDT
Uber has confirmed that it is already testing its self-driving cars in California, but it is not yet available as a transport service like the fleet currently ferrying passengers in Pittsburgh.
"A handful of cars equipped with advanced driver safety and self-driving technology are now being tested in the Bay Area," an Uber spokesperson said in a Tech Crunch interview. "These are for internal research use only."
Uber also maintained that the research nature of the vehicle's presence in San Francisco means that a driver is always present. It also stressed that the field trial aims to test its new service in different environments to ensure the success and improvement of passenger safety.
Uber did not provide details on the nature of its research or the purpose of its tests in the Bay Area. However, one school of thought points to the possibility that the vehicles are there to map routes. Mapping is said to be important because it will help the car acclimatize to its surroundings. This is needed because there could be significant differences to the city map in the car's database and to what the car actually perceives through its sensors (especially obstacles) when on the road.
There are observers who dispute this, however, because Uber has already been reported to be mapping San Francisco last week.
Aside from its latest statement, Uber did not add any more details about the issue or about the schedule of the ride-hailing service's self-driving vehicle rollout in San Francisco.