Fleet News

Uber exits self-driving tech-race

Uber will no longer be leading development of its own self-driving technology after selling its autonomous vehicle division to Aurora for an undisclosed sum.

While Uber will no longer have its own self-driving division, it will remain linked with Aurora after commiting $400 million (£300m) to the company's continued development of autonomous vehicle technology.

Aurora, which was founded by Chris Urmson, who previously led Google's self-driving car division, will be using its own technology combined with Uber's Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) to focus on the heavy-goods vehicle market first.

However, Uber passenger vehicles will use Aurora's software "in the years to come".

Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi will also join the Aurora board.

Khosrowshahi said: “Few technologies hold as much promise to improve people’s lives with safe, accessible, and environmentally friendly transportation as self-driving vehicles.

“For the last five years, our team at ATG has been at the forefront of this effort—and in joining forces with Aurora, they are now in pole position to deliver on that promise even faster.”

Khosrowshahi made no comment about why Uber itself did not want to continue leading development of self-driving technology.

However, since joining as chief executive in 2017, Khosrowshahi has been tasked with increasing profits at Uber and has focussed on taxi and food delivery services.

Uber’s self-driving technology was also involved in a fatal crash in Arizona in 2018.

An Uber back-up driver in a self-driving vehicle was charged with negligent homicide after failing to take control of the vehicle in an emergency and is awaiting trial next year.

Urmson said: “With the addition of ATG, Aurora will have an incredibly strong team and technology, a clear path to several markets, and the resources to deliver.

“Simply put, Aurora will be the company best positioned to deliver the self-driving products necessary to make transportation and logistics safer, more accessible, and less expensive.”

Urmson said the team at Aurora is committed to “rigorous testing and has built a strong safety culture”.

He added: “With their technical prowess in both research and practical applications, ATG will strengthen and accelerate the first Aurora Driver applications for heavy-duty trucks while allowing us to continue and accelerate our work on light-vehicle products.”

John Colley, associate dean of Warwick Business School, believes Uber are trying to stem the cash drain which these development units require.

"Having lost $6 billion in the first half of the year, cash is starting to matter at Uber.

"Uber has around $6bn left, but the impression is that backers are starting to become impatient for profits and less willing to stump up more cash to support a story which struggles to approach profitability. 

"There has been a clearing of the decks, disposing of other activities such as freight and bikes. However, the sale of the autonomous vehicle unit was not the success that Uber had hoped for, as the valuation slumped and the deal was for shares rather than cash with a partner which would be far from top of the list.

"Uber's hope now is to focus on making money from ride hailing and food delivery. That could take some time."

Aurora was founded in 2017 and also has financial backing from Amazon and venture capital firm Sequoia.

Amazon wants to use self-driving technology in the future for its logistics and its own taxi services.

The online retail giant already bolstered its self-driving ambitions when it acquired self-driving start-up Zoox in June this year.

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