Uber refused to pay $150 for a permit to test 16 self-driving Volvo XC90 SUVs in San Francisco and was aware of the fact that the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) considers its efforts to be illegal otherwise, an email exchange obtained by The Verge under the Public Records Act revealed. The correspondence shows how Antony Levandowski, Vice President of Advanced Technologies Group at Uber repeatedly refused to accept DMV's stance that any testing of autonomous vehicles in San Francisco and anywhere else in the State of California requires a permit. Instead, Uber's executive argued about the legal definition of autonomous vehicles and both parties dropped the matter after a lengthy exchange without reaching a conclusion. However, Uber then proceeded to start its pilot self-driving program in San Francisco without notifying the authorities, which is why that endeavor was a short-lived one and only lasted for a week before the DMV revoked the registrations of Uber's autonomous vehicles.
The email correspondence that was now uncovered proves how Uber's top management was aware that the pilot program will likely be shut down by the authorities but still decided to go through with it. The essence of the dispute between Uber and the DMV lies in the definition of autonomous vehicles under California law as the former is claiming its experimental fleet consists of self-driving, and not autonomous vehicles seeing how all cars had human drivers in them that were supervising the AI that was handling the wheel. However, the DMV not only disagreed with that claim but apparently dropped the idea of arguing semantics with Uber after a lengthy email exchange that didn't amount to anything.
One particular email that can be seen below even implies that the DMV is putting needles hurdles in front of Uber's ambitions because the agency is under the influence of the misinformed press. While Uber subsequently met with the DMV and the California Attorney General's office in an effort to clear up what initially seemed to be a misunderstanding, the ride-hailing company then refused to obtain a testing permit and moved its vehicle fleet to Arizona where it proceeded with the testing. As for the reasons behind Uber's unexpected approach to the situation, it's possible that the company didn't want to share the disengagement rates of its vehicles with the DMV, i.e. the number of cases in which its drivers were forced to take control of its self-driving vehicles. Another possibility is that Uber is trying to use the entire situation as a way to publicly pressure the DMV into loosening its regulations on autonomous vehicle testing.