Uber pinned hopes on running its self-driving fleet in San Francisco but motored off to Arizona two months ago when that plan ran up against some local red tape. Now, just as Uber is dealing with an explosive report of sexual harassment within its engineering team, the company has officially rolled out its self-driving cars in the Grand Canyon state.
Starting today, those in Tempe, Arizona can order up one of Uber’s self-driving Volvo XC90 SUV’s on the platform.
Uber rolled out its pilot self-driving car program first in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and then in San Francisco mid-December with 16 self-driving vehicles but ran into issues with the state of California when the California DMV insisted Uber cars needed to get a $150 self-driving car permit before driving on California roads. Uber refused, then one of the self-driving cars ran a red light, drama ensued. One week later, off to Arizona the Volvos went.
The Arizona program has firm support from state Governor Doug Ducey, who’s been a proponent of the plan since the day these automated vehicles showed up, telling Uber the state welcomed the companies self-driving fleet, “with open arms and wide open roads.”
But it’s not the first time Arizona has taken a much more liberal stance on driving tech. Governor Ducey also signed an executive order in August 2015 allowing for the testing and operating of self-driving vehicles in the state — which is partly why GM’s automated platform Cruise chose to open up its second manufacturing facility in Phoenix and why Scottsdale, Arizona has become a hotbed of driverless car testing.
The Governor is now rider number one for Uber’s self-driving program, but he won’t be all alone in the vehicle. Though the state has much friendlier regulatory guidelines for self-driving cars than California, Uber will still have two driver engineers to help operate each car, according to The Verge, which first reported the launch.
No word yet from Uber, or Governor Ducey’s office about the rollout but it seems oddly timed with the current drama. Following the aforementioned report of sexual harassment at Uber over the weekend, CEO Travis Kalanick hosted an all-hands meeting today, along with board member Arianna Huffington and Chief Human Resources Officer Liane Hornsey, to discuss the company’s next steps.
While the rollout seems a positive step in the company’s future direction it may not be enough to pull it out of an increasingly bad reputation. Just weeks before the recent allegations of widespread sexism Kalanick stepped down from Trump’s tech advisory board after a reported 200,000 people deleted their accounts during a #DeleteUber campaign.
We are waiting to hear back on what was said in today’s all-hands meeting at the moment but this meeting comes after TechCrunch obtained an internal memo from Kalanick yesterday, which further explained the details of the independent investigation Uber plans to conduct around the sexual harassment allegations. He also notified employees that the company has brought on former US Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as Tammy Albarran of law firm Covington & Burling to lead the investigation.