By on July 31, 2018

Uber Otto

Uber is shutting down its self-driving trucks unit due to a lack of progress and the controversy surrounding its multi-million dollar acquisition of Otto in 2016. The firm was purchased with the intent of developing self-driving cargo haulers, potentially saving the trucking company a fortune by outsourcing driving jobs to robots. But it was slow to reach that goal and ran head-on with a serious distraction almost immediately.

Initially, things looked promising. Otto was famous for engineering a truck that hauled a trailer full of beer across 120 miles of Colorado highway without human intervention. But it found a different sort of fame after its founder, Anthony Levandowski, took over as head of Uber’s self-driving car research and Waymo faulted him with handing over trade secrets.

As a former engineer for Google’s autonomous vehicle project (which would later evolve into Waymo), Levandowski was privy to sensitive information he was later accused of selling as part of the Otto buyout. 

The associated lawsuit is settled, with Uber agreeing to not incorporate Waymo’s confidential information into its self-driving hardware and software. While this may not have been what led to the firm abandoning its trucking program, it was likely a contributing factor. More likely, Uber simply found itself in a position necessitating it focus primarily on passenger vehicles.

“We recently took the important step of returning to public roads in Pittsburgh, and as we look to continue that momentum, we believe having our entire team’s energy and expertise focused on this effort is the best path forward,” explained Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group.

With a high-profile fatal incident with a pedestrian in its rearview mirror, the firm likely doesn’t want to pull attention away from the passenger vehicle program. In fact, it has only just reinstated testing in Pittsburgh under the new safety guidelines.

Uber Freight, which connects drivers with shipping clients via a smartphone app, will be unaffected by the decision to eliminate the self-driving truck unit. Employees who find themselves out of a job will be relocated to other internal roles within autonomous vehicle development or awarded a severance package.

[Image: Uber]

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9 Comments on “Uber Killing Off Autonomous Trucking Division...”

  • avatar

    Did they buy it or was it a takover? If they bought it, time to sue the sellers for selling them intellectual property they didn’t own.

  • avatar

    Uber is a taxi company that wants to pretend it’s a tech company. I don’t see that the company’s management has any concept of how to run a real tech company. If they truly believe that being an AV leader is critical to their business, they’d do better to invest in someone else’s AV project – if they can find someone who will let them in.

    Otherwise, they should stay out of the fray, and simply buy whatever company’s product emerges as a market leader.

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree. Uber is a tech company. They us technology to bring drivers and riders together.

      This doesn’t remotely qualify them to build autonomous vehicles. That’s like Trek building an intergalactic space vehicle.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Who seriously believes that any company will accept the liability for 80,000 lbs of freight truck barreling down the road at 70 mph without a driver?

    The miniscule savings from driverless trucks will pale in comparison to the losses in court.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, the savings wouldn’t be exactly minuscule as you could keep the vehicles running 24/7 without mandatory driver rest periods and such, and utilize the fleet much more effectively. Something like a 30% reduction of costs.

      But yeah, liability issues will keep automated trucks off the roads for at least a decade or two.

  • avatar

    Initially, Uber was very much a tech company. Their founding insight, was that smart phones had reached, or were about to reach, a level of sophistication and penetration that would allow them up, finally, upend the San Francisco taxi monopoly. Which has literally been attempted, unsuccessfully (how could I know…..), by techies since the 70s…. IOW, it was very much tech considerations, and successfully exploiting a tech opportunity, that got the company off the ground.

  • avatar

    “The associated lawsuit is settled, with Uber agreeing to not incorporate Waymo’s confidential information into its self-driving hardware and software.”

    It’s kind of funny when a judge orders something like this.

    “You will never use this super secret information you’ve seen, in any way!”
    “Okaayyyy fine.”

  • avatar

    And there’s always one human in a big group photo who isn’t looking where they’re supposed to. She’s in the front row.

  • avatar

    This is similar to a company called GreenTech Automotive that took the state of Mississippi for a ride. Their scheme was to build electric cars. They built a shell of a plant building in Robinsonville, MS which looks very similar inside to this one. They hired employees who would move body panels and parts around when the press was there and pretend to be in production. They finally did produce a few small vehicles akin to electric golf carts with full bodies. I don’t think any were sold, and probably couldn’t meet safety standards. Of note, the founder of this so-called company was former governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe. They filed for bankruptcy early this year.

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