California DMV Investigating Uber's Otto Self-Driving Truck Division

California regulators believe Uber may have conducted tests without their approval.

Uber Advanced Technologies Group

The California DMV is planning an inspection of Uber's self-driving truck division—formerly known as Otto—to determine whether the company tested autonomous trucks on public roads without permission, according to Forbes. It's yet another bit of controversy for Uber's autonomous-vehicle program.

The inspection was reportedly triggered by discrepancies in Uber/Otto's explanations of testing procedures. At a February 24 meeting, the company told DMV officials that its trucks were not operating autonomously. But it told Colorado officials that testing procedures involved switching back and forth between autonomous and manual driving, depending on conditions.

"Based on DMV's meeting with the company earlier this year, they conveyed that the technology operating on California roads is not autonomous," California DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez told Forbes. "This meeting will be a follow-up to that."

Current California rules prohibit the testing of autonomous vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds on public roads, so any tests of the trucks in fully-autonomous mode would be illegal. An Uber spokeswoman told Forbes that the trucks do not operate autonomously in California the way they do in Colorado. In California, testing only involves "driver-assist tech," she said.

Uber has already run afoul of the California DMV once. In December, it launched a fleet of autonomous test vehicles in San Francisco without applying for the proper permits. The DMV revoked the cars' registrations, and the test program was moved to Arizona. Uber eventually applied for the permits and brought some cars back to San Francisco.

Otto is at the heart of an even bigger controversy. It began as a startup co-founded by ex-Google self-driving car engineer Anthony Levandowski, which Uber bought last year. In February Waymo, the former Google self-driving car project, sued Uber, alleging it benefited from trade secrets Levandowski stole and took to Otto. Levandowski isn't named in the suit, but he is accused of downloading 14,000 Waymo files, and the company is currently in arbitration with him.

The court case is ongoing. The judge overseeing it recently barred Levandowksi from further involvement in Uber's self-driving car efforts, and has asked federal prosecutors to look into the case. However, he hasn't granted Waymo's request for an injunction that would completely shut down Uber's self-driving car program.