Uber Cans Self-Driving Trucks Program
At no point will you be able to open Uber and flag down an autonomous truck. Uber has cancelled further investment into the project.
Uber Advanced Technologies Group has reportedly cancelled its autonomous trucks program and will reprioritize its efforts in the direction of autonomous cars to take advantage of its existing customer base. Uber Freight, a middleman between drivers and trucking companies, is reportedly not affected.
"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," stated the head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, Eric Meyhofer, in an email sent to Uber employees, according to Tech Crunch. "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."
The project's cancellation comes four months after Lior Ron departed Uber. Ron was at the root of autonomous trucking startup Otto, which Uber absorbed in August of 2016 to kickstart its autonomous truck program. This eventually prompted a legal battle between his current and former employer, Google-owned Waymo, which alleged that trade secrets were funneled through Ron and Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski. Waymo eventually settled for $245 million. Uber officially attributes the project's cessation to a refocus, and not Ron's departure.
"We've decided to stop development on our self-driving truck program and move forward exclusively with cars," stated Meyhofer in an email to The Drive. "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."
Autonomous trucking is a contentious topic with labor unions such as the Teamsters, which oppose the introduction of autonomous trucks due to a risk of mass job loss. They may be fighting a losing battle, as Chinese retrofitter TuSimple is already experimenting with nearly-autonomous trucks in both the United States and China. Uber or not, it's clear autonomous trucks are in demand...and maybe on the way.