Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Uber gives up the dream of autonomous driving

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In 2015, then-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick pulled off a daring talent raid by hiring some 40 robotics engineers from Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center. The move would have left the shocked world-class engineering university, and it seemed to indicate that the world’s hottest startup was about to make self-driving cars a reality.

Now that autonomous unit is gone and the estimated timeframe for robotaxi domination has extended well into this decade. Uber said on Monday it would sell the stand-alone unit resulting from the raid, to the Pittsburgh-based Advanced Technologies Group. The 1,200-person unit will be acquired by autonomous driving technology developer Aurora. Uber will invest $ 400 million in Aurora as part of the deal, raising Aurora’s valuation to $ 10 billion and tripling its workforce. Now-Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will also hold a seat on Aurora’s board.

The move continues the consolidation of autonomous driving technology as the process of creating safe and secure autonomous vehicles continues to cost more and take longer than tipsters once believed. Uber ATG lost $ 303 million between January and September of this year, according to financial documents, and the company has spent more than $ 1 billion in its five years of existence.

Aurora does not plan to build an autonomous car or truck on its own; instead, he’s developing the complex software that will power autonomous vehicles. It has signed deals with car manufacturers such as Hyundai, electric vehicle company Byton and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Thanks to the Uber deal, Aurora is probably gaining another big partner: Toyota. The Japanese company invested $ 500 million in the Uber autonomous driving unit last year. Aurora is testing its technology in the Bay Area, Pittsburgh and Dallas. The company also has offices in Bozeman, MT, the former home of lidar company Blackmore, which he acquired in 2019.

The sale of ATG continues another trend, that of Uber reducing its scope and selling part of its activity while it seeks profitability. The transit company – which once hoped to be an “Amazon for transportation” – unloaded its Jump to Lime micromobility unit this summer, and part sold of its trucking logistics business, Uber Freight, this fall. Uber is also would have in talks to sell its autonomous air taxi business, Elevate. Uber “remains committed to commercializing autonomous transport on the Uber network through industry partnerships,” said spokesperson Sarah Abboud.

Uber’s autonomous efforts have been troubled. It was pursued by Google’s brother Waymo for theft of trade secrets after acquiring another developer of autonomous driving technologies, Otto. After a few days of public trial in San Francisco, the two companies settled the case, with Uber promising to avoid Waymo’s technology – a serious setback for the Uber hardware team. Anthony Levandowski, the Uber self-driving chief at the center of the trade secrets affair, was later charged by federal prosecutors for his role in the program; after pleading guilty, he is now serving a 18 month prison sentence.

The WIRED Guide to Self-Driving Cars

How a chaotic desert race of skunkworks kicked off what is set to be a booming global industry.

In 2018, an Uber autonomous vehicle under test hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. (The safety driver behind the wheel has since been charged with negligenceSelf-driving industry’s first death led Uber to halt testing for months reassessed its systems and security program. (The company actually did not have an operational security division at the time.) According to one National Transportation Safety Board investigationUber’s organizational failures were at least partly responsible for the woman’s death. Today, Uber is back on the road in a more limited capacity, testing in Pittsburgh and Washington, DC.


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