Uber Killing Off Autonomous Trucking Division
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.
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