Uber has handed its autonomous vehicle project over to Aurora, a Silicon Valley startup. The rideshare giant plans to invest $400 million into Aurora, essentially paying the company to take over the self-driving car operation. It’s likely Uber will license whatever technology Aurora manages to create.
The decision to sell this portion of its business comes after a number of financial and legal headaches. Overall, autonomous vehicle projects have received billions in investments from Silicon Valley and automakers, but fleets of robotic vehicles have yet to grace streets across the country.
Instead of an autonomous rideshare taxi, Aurora’s chief executive, Chris Urmson, told the New York Times, the first product will likely be a self-driving truck. Urmson believes an autonomous tractor-trailer has a better chance of success in the short term because long-haul truck driving on highways and interstates is more predictable and does not involve passengers.
For months, Urmson stated his company’s first product would involve long-haul trucking: “If you are a passenger in the back of a vehicle and the driver is too cautious, that can be frustrating, and if they are not cautious enough, that’s scary. If you are a roll of toilet paper in the back of a truck, that is a different matter.”
In regard to the struggles and legal battles Uber has faced while trying to get its self-driving car fleet off the ground, the project resulted in the death of a pedestrian in Arizona, a lawsuit from Waymo, and a guilty plea from a former Uber executive accused of stealing intellectual property.
Uber originally entered the self-driving car sector in 2015 with the goal of reducing the expenses of having drivers. The company believed it could eventually reduce costs and become profitable, ending years and billions of losses.
In addition to acquiring Uber’s self-driving technology, Aurora is also getting the company’s 600 engineers and support staff, most of whom are located in Pittsburgh. As part of the agreement, Uber is taking a 26 percent stake in the startup, and Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, will take a seat on the board of directors.
According to Elliot Katz, co-founder and chief business officer of Phantom Auto, this is the right decision for Uber: “Uber can still have a hand in the game, without putting out the enormous amount of money they were spending with ATG, but still have a path to market when this technology is actually deploy-able in several years.”
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