Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
San Francisco, CA, United States (4E) – Uber has deactivated its troubled self-driving trucks program and will instead focus its time and resources on advancing development of self-driving cars.
Uber Advanced Technologies Group will stop development of self-driving trucks as part of a broader plan to realign its resources towards the more promising smart cars. The group will also transfer employees in the self-driving trucks unit to other jobs that support its ongoing development of self-driving technology. If truck employees can’t be re-integrated, Uber will offer them either relocation to Pittsburgh or a separation package.
The self-driving trucks project was to have benefited Uber Freight, a unit that helps truck drivers connect with shipping companies, and which would have operated the self-driving trucks. Uber still considers Uber Freight a viable and promising revenue opportunity.
“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,” said Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group.
Uber Freight will continue doing business despite the decision to end the development of self-driving trucks. Launched in May 2017, Uber Freight is currently available throughout the continental United States.
“Rather than having two groups working side by side, focused on different vehicle platforms, I want us instead collaborating as one team,” said Meyhofer. “I know we’re all super proud of what the Trucks team has accomplished, and we continue to see the incredible promise of self-driving technology applied to moving freight across the country.
“But we believe delivering on self-driving for passenger applications first, and then bringing it to freight applications down the line, is the best path forward. For now, we need the focus of one team, with one clear objective.”
Uber’s self-driving trucks unit is based in San Francisco, while its self-driving cars unit is located in Pittsburgh.
Shuttering the self-driving truck program ends an effort plagued by controversy since it began in 2016. Uber’s foray into smart trucks began when it bought Otto, a self-driving trucks startup founded by former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, for $680 million. Levandowski became head of Uber’s self-driving car research.
Uber, however, was sued in February 2017 by Waymo, Google’s self-driving project, for patent infringement and stealing trade secrets. Specifically, the Waymo lawsuit alleges Uber planned to use trade secrets related to its in-house development of LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology and use it to kick start Uber’s own self-driving technology program.
The lawsuit further alleges Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 confidential and proprietary Waymo files before his resignation from Google. It contends that Otto and Uber are using key dta from its self-driving technology specifically related to LiDAR.
Waymo and Uber, however, reached a settlement agreement under which Uber agreed not to use Waymo’s confidential information into their hardware and software. Uber also agreed to pay a financial settlement worth some $244.8 million in Uber equity. Levandowski was also fired.
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