So in 2015 Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber, conducted a bold talent attack when he poached around 40 robotics from the National Robotics Engineering Center in Carnegie Mellon. The move reportedly rocked the world-class engineering university, and it seemed to signal that the world’s hottest startup was on the verge of making self-driving cars a reality.
Now that self-propelled unit is no longer there, and the estimated timeline for Robotaxi dominance has extended well into this decade. Uber said Monday it would sell the self-propelled unit that was the result of that raid to the Pittsburgh-based Advanced Technologies Group. The 1,200-person unit will be taken over by the self-driving tech developer Aurora. Uber will invest $ 400 million in Aurora as part of the deal to raise Aurora’s valuation to $ 10 billion and triple its workforce. Uber’s current CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, will also sit on Aurora’s board of directors.
The move continues the consolidation of self-driving technology as the process of creating safer autonomous vehicles continues to cost more and take longer than forecasters once thought. According to financial reports, Uber lost ATG $ 303 million between January and September this year, and the company has spent more than $ 1 billion in its five years.
Aurora doesn’t plan to build a self-driving car or truck of its own. Instead, the complex software that drives autonomous vehicles is developed. It has signed deals with automakers such as Hyundai, electric vehicle maker Byton and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The Uber deal will likely add another big partner to Aurora: Toyota. The Japanese company invested $ 500 million in the self-driving unit Uber last year. Aurora is testing its technology in the Bay Area, Pittsburgh, and Dallas. The company also has offices in Bozeman, Montana, the former headquarters of lidar company Blackmore, which it acquired in 2019.
The sale of ATG continues another trend: Uber is narrowing its scope and selling parts of its business for profitability. The hail-fighting company, which once hoped to be an “Amazon for Transport”, uploaded its Jump to Lime micromobility unit this summer and sold part of its truck logistics business Uber Freight in the fall. Uber is also reportedly in talks to sell its Elevate autonomous air taxi business. Uber “continues to advocate the commercialization of self-driving transport in the Uber network through industrial partnerships,” says spokeswoman Sarah Abboud.
Uber’s self-driving efforts were worried. It was sued for trade secret theft by Google sibling, Waymo, after acquiring another self-driving tech developer, Otto. After a brisk days of public trial in San Francisco, the two companies have settled the case. Uber promised to stay away from Waymo’s technology – a major setback for the Uber hardware team. Anthony Levandowski, the self-driving Uber boss at the center of the trade secret case, was later indicted by federal prosecutors for his role in the system. After pleading guilty, he is now serving an 18-month prison sentence.
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In 2018, an Uber self-driving test vehicle hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. (The safety driver behind the wheel has now been charged with negligence.) The death – the first in the self-driving industry – resulted in Uber suspending testing for months while re-evaluating its safety systems and program. (The company did not have an operational safety department at the time.) According to a National Transportation Safety Board investigation, Uber’s organizational errors were at least partially responsible for the woman’s death. Today, Uber is back on the road in more limited capacity, testing in Pittsburgh and Washington, DC.