Wednesday, December 21, 2016

California DMV revokes Uber’s driverless cars’ registrations; Uber takes them off the road and agrees to seek standard test permit, then says it’s cancelling the test instead

The impasse between Uber, the ride-hailing company, and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), an agency of the State of California, had apparently been resolved as the DMV revoked the registrations of the cars involved in Uber’s permitless testing of cars it said were “self-driving” but in need of monitoring, thereby exempting themselves from the requirement that autonomous vehicles must have a special permit to operate on California’s roadways; and Uber agreed to take the cars off the road and apply for the proper permit, before the ride-sharing company apparently changed its mind and said it was cancelling the test in California entirely.

First, the DMV sent out this press release:

“Consistent with the department’s position that Uber's vehicles are autonomous vehicles, the DMV has taken action to revoke the registration of 16 vehicles owned by Uber.  It was determined that the registrations were improperly issued for these vehicles because they were not properly marked as test vehicles.  Concurrently, the department invited Uber to seek a permit so their vehicles can operate legally in California.

“California’s testing regulations for autonomous vehicles strikes a balance between protecting public safety and embracing innovation. These regulations were adopted two years ago, and they are working for the 20 manufacturers now testing more than 130 autonomous vehicles on California’s streets and roads.  Uber is welcome to test its autonomous technology in California like everybody else, through the issuance of a testing permit that can take less than 72 hours to issue after a completed application is submitted.  The department stands ready to assist Uber in obtaining a permit as expeditiously as possible.”

It also released copy of the letter that DMV Director Jean Shiomoto sent to Uber earlier today.  The letter was addressed to Mr. Davis White at Uber Technologies, Inc. and read as follows:

Dear Mr. White:

I understand you spoke with California State Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly this morning and informed him that Uber has removed all of its autonomous vehicles from the public roadways.  I appreciate the action that Uber has taken in the interest of public safety.  I also understand that Uber is interested in applying for a California autonomous vehicle testing permit.

I want to reassure you that the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) stands ready to work with you collaboratively.  The autonomous vehicle testing application process is simple and straightforward.  The application materials are available on our website (  I have dedicated a team to work with you to expedite the approval process.  You can reach the Autonomous Vehicles Testing Permit Team at (916) XXX-XXXX if you have any questions.  I will also personally help to ensure an expedited review and approval process.

The DMV fully supports the advancement of autonomous technologies.  This technology holds the promise of enhanced safety and mobility, but must be tested responsibly.  We are committed to assisting Uber in their efforts to innovate and advance this ground-breaking technology.


Jean M. Shiomoto

cc:       Brian P. Kelly, Secretary, California State Transportation Agency
            Bernard C. Soriano, Deputy Director
            Brian G. Soublet, Deputy Director/Chief Counsel

Brian Soublet wrote the original letter to Uber telling them back on December 14th that they needed to get a permit before they could test their self-driving cars in the streets of San Francisco.  You can read that letter here.

Ars Technica reported four hours ago that Uber would be terminating its self-driving car testing in California, rather than applying for a permit, as implied in the letter to Mr. Davis.

If true, this would render moot Director Shiomoto’s offer to give every priority to Uber in applying for a testing permit.   

Virtual Reality Games in Hollywood offers immersive VR experiences to a growing market

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had Jobs’ parents’ garage.  Sergey Brin and Larry Page had a Stanford dorm room.  Misha Suvorov and Dmitriy Zherebtsov have a small commercial rental in a nondescript building across from the Comcast-NBC Universal Tower in Universal City, California.

There, they are letting regular people try out advanced virtual reality systems on an hourly basis, as an adjunct to their on-going Haunted Recording Studio escape room games, which offer creepy and suspenseful moments as participants attempt to escape from a locked room by solving puzzles and propitiating the spirit of the ghost of the murdered singer which haunts the place by solving the mystery of her death, while honing their team-working skill sets, all inside of an hour.

Misha’s day job is as an actor.  He immigrated to the United States from St. Petersburg, Russia, three years ago.  While working as an actor in Russia, he became involved with “immersive theatre,” performances where the audience participates in the creation of the experience.

During an interview this afternoon immediately adjacent to a “VR spot” where a client was immersing herself in whatever she was seeing in her HTC Vive headset, Misha recounted the evolution and global spread of “escape room” live-action games where a group of people need to work together to solve a mystery and escape from the room they’re trapped in.

According to the actor-entrepreneur, escape games began online in 2007 in Japan, spread to Hungary as a real-world experience in 2011, and then proliferated widely throughout Eastern Europe and Russia. 

They came to the U.S. about two years ago, and, according to Misha, are spreading rapidly because this entertainment format offers people a form of live, theatrical performance that is otherwise on the decline in places like Los Angeles.

The natural synergy between being an actor in immersive theatre and a new paradigm for participatory theatre combined when, in March, 2015, Misha created the Haunted Recording Studio experience.  The actual location opened in February, 2016, at 3611 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Hollywood, CA  90068, in the shadow of Universal City and Vivid Entertainment.

The Haunted Recording Studio experience had good success, Misha said.

In April, 2016, Misha’s friend Dmitriy suggested to him that he might want to evolve from running an escape room to running a “VR spot” where people could use the newly-released virtual reality headsets that provide an electronic immersive experience.  Misha thought this was a good idea, and, after buying the necessary PCs, VR equipment, and monitors, they had Virtual Reality Games up and running by August 1, 2016 with a single spot.  They added a second spot in the same location in September, 2016.

Among the games available for use on the two systems they have available are:  Chamber 19, Destinations, The Lab, and VR Battle Grid.  Access to the HTC Vive headset comes with as much or as little personal assistance as you need.  An hour of time plugged in costs $40 and can be scheduled at 

Misha says that one or two hours is plenty long for a VR session.  He also thinks that customers who are spending five or more hours per week in VR at VR Games ought to buy their own units for home use.

He said he felt it was important that VR locations maintain high technical standards for their operations, in order to generate a positive brand identity for the sector.  He spoke of creating a baseline level of performance comparable to high-definition television, or VR HD.  He said that VR experiences engineered from scratch for VR are superior to ones converted for VR from other media.

The creative and aesthetic possibilities of VR have yet to be fully realized, but one place where they might be is a small building near the freeway on the border between Hollywood and Universal City, and on the border between the highest technology available and new levels of artistic expression that can be achieved with it.

You can watch a short Etopia News video interview with Misha and Dmitriy here.

You can schedule a VR experience at Virtual Reality Games here.  To get 10% off the regular price for a VR session, use promo code ETOPIA.

You can schedule an escape game session at the Haunted Recording Studio here.  To get 10% off the regular price for an escape game experience, use promo code ETOPIA.


Monday, December 19, 2016

California State Treasurer John Chiang’s Cannabis Banking Working Group starts to address Federal-California “disconnect” on cannabis banking services

California State Treasurer and declared 2018 gubernatorial candidate John Chiang presided today over the first meeting of the Cannabis Banking Working Group (CBWG) he recently called into existence.  The mission of the CBWG is to resolve the “disconnect” between Federal classification of cannabis as a Class 1 (dangerous and useless) controlled substance and California’s treatment of it as a legitimate and legal medical and recreational option.

Medical cannabis was legalized in California in 1996, by a favorable vote of the people on Proposition 215.  Recreational cannabis was legalized in the Golden State in 2016, by the favorable vote of the people on Proposition 64.

Here’s the press release his office issued this afternoon:

Cannabis Banking Tales of Risks Take Center Stage
at Capitol Meeting of Industries and Public Agencies
Treasurer Chiang’s Cannabis Banking Working Group hears of real and potential risks to cannabis workers, their families and banks

SACRAMENTO Simple questions about how to maintain bank accounts and make deposits became entangled with prison anxieties and fears of robbery Monday during the first in a series of meetings of the Cannabis Banking Working Group convened by California State Treasurer John Chiang. About 100 people attended the meeting in the State Capitol.

The working group was organized by the Treasurer following voter approval of Proposition 64 last month. The proposition legalizes the recreational use of cannabis but leaves unresolved a conflict with existing federal law. Caught in the middle are California banks and cannabis businesses that are legal under California law.

“As we learned today from listening for more than three hours to experts with California’s public agencies, financial services and cannabis industry there is a dangerous, disruptive disconnect between state law and federal law,” the Treasurer said.

The disconnect not only adversely affects governments seeking to collect taxes, cannabis businesses seeking to use traditional financial services and the banks that might wish to provide those services, panelists said Monday. The disconnect also puts cannabis workers and business owners at risk of being harmed and bankers at risk of going to prison, they told Chiang and members of the working group.

“The cannabis industry is the largest shadow economy in California. Allowing them banking access would facilitate compliance and bring millions of dollars into our economy,” said Fiona Ma, California State Board of Equalization Chairwoman and a member of the Cannabis Banking Working Group.

“We need strong leaders like Treasurer John Chiang to tackle this urgent and complex state and federal conflict.”

In addition to Chiang and Ma, the 16-member working group includes representatives of the California Bankers Association, California Community Banking Network, California and Nevada Credit Union League, the California Employment Development Department, the state Franchise Tax Board, Department of Business Oversight, Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, Business Consumer Services and Housing Agency, Attorney General, California Growers Association, California Cannabis Industry Association, California State Association of Counties, League of California Cities and the law firm of Clark Neubert, which represents the cannabis industry.

The Cannabis Banking Working Group plans to hold at least four more meetings around the state.

“It is clear the machinery of federal government is clunking along behind the trending preferences of the American people,” Chiang said. “The people increasingly proclaim cannabis use acceptable. Yet federal law maintains its use is a crime.

“Defining the problem is our first objective. And we started doing that today. As we continue to hold meetings around the state and compile information, I think we will continue to gain ever more clarity on precisely what should be done and how.”

To watch a video recording of the first meeting of the CBWG, click here.