Uber in addition to selling its autonomous driving unit is also investing $400 million in the Aurora self-driving car startup.
Transportation giant Uber Technologies Inc (NYSE: UBER) announced on Monday that the company has agreed to sell its self-driving car project to Aurora, a Silicon Valley start-up, in a bid to increase the company’s profitability. Uber, over the years, spent millions of dollars on the self-driving car initiative, a move which its executive strongly believed was vital in taking the company to the next level in terms of profit.
Uber in addition to selling its autonomous driving unit, Uber Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), is also investing $400 million in the self-driving car startup, Aurora revealed in a statement.
Uber stated that the dream of producing autonomous vehicles is still within reach but just now in the near future after investing millions of dollars which only landed them in controversies and a pool of legal battles. The company is now going to outsource their million-dollar effort to Aurora and is likely to license whatever technology the Silicon Valley startup manages to create.
Chris Urmson, Aurora’s chief executive speaking after the acquisition stated that the company’s initial product will not be a robot taxi that could contribute to Uber’s ride-hailing success. Instead, the Silicon Valley start-up will switch its attention to a self-driving truck, which according to Urmson has better odds of succeeding in the short term. He added that long-haul truck driving on highways is less complicated, predictable and does not involve any passengers.
Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi in a statement said that he couldn’t wait to bring Aurora technology to the market “in the years ahead.” He however refuted any attempt to comment further on their agreement with Aurora.
Uber’s plan on autonomous vehicles was launched in 2015 after it secured a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Center. The foundation for the self-driving car project was established and its unit was named the Uber Advanced Technologies Group (A.T.G). Uber bought Otto, an autonomous trucking start-up, spearheaded by Anthony Levandowski the next year. Levandowski had worked as an engineer with Google and was instrumental in Google’s first test of self-driving vehicles on public roads. Together with Chris Urmson, the two were amongst the key engineers to help make Google’s test a success.
Levandowski would soon be at the center of Uber’s self-driving project legal issues as he was accused of stealing trade secrets from Google in a lawsuit filed against Uber by Waymo in 2017. He would eventually be fired by Uber but not after the company had agreed to give Google a stake in the company valued at $72 million at that time.
Uber’s self-driving technology also came under intense criticism and scrutiny after a fatal accident in Arizona in 2018 when a 49-year-old woman was fatally hit by a Volvo SUV outfitted with an Uber self-driving system. The customer behind the wheel claimed the vehicle was in computer control mode at the time of the crash as she wasn’t responsible for anything that happened.
An investigation into the case found several faults with the vehicle, highlighting the failure of the SUV’s sensor systems to determine whether the victim was a pedestrian, vehicle or bicycle, and it failed to correctly predict her path. Uber reached a settlement with the victim’s family in March last year.