Uber’s self-driving truck program is done

Uber's self-driving truck program is done
Otto started Uber's self-driving truck program. Now it's all over.
Otto started Uber’s self-driving truck program. Now it’s all over.
Image: ANGELO MERENDINO/AFP/Getty Images

Uber’s self-driving truck program feels like it just took off, but after a court trial and several major leadership changes, it’s been a long road to a dead-end announced Monday. 

Back in 2016, Uber acquired Otto — former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski’s self-driving truck startup — and Uber’s self-driving truck program was born. Then Levandowski was sued for taking trade secrets from Google and bringing them to Uber in the acquisition. That was mainly about the LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) laser and sensor technology that uses light to help the autonomous vehicles “see” the road and world around them. 

Levandowski was effectively fired before the whole saga turned into the lengthy Waymo (Google’s autonomous vehicles team) v. Uber case, which ended in a $245 million settlement a few months ago. But not before former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick testified at the trial. Others, including Otto co-founder Lior Ron, eventually left the company as well. 

Eric Meyhofer, the head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, which oversaw the autonomous trucks, said in a statement that the company is putting everything into self-driving cars. That program just started up again in Pittsburgh, albeit with some changes, after a fatal crash in Arizona in March stalled the program. 

In an email that TechCrunch reviewed, Meyhofer told the team, “Rather than having two groups working side by side, focused on different vehicle platforms, I want us instead collaborating as one team. 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. 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 Trucks team was based in San Francisco. Uber will pivot those employees to other self-driving work, which at this point means self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. Uber is also staying committed to its LiDAR development and using that technology in its self-driving cars.

In May 2017, Uber also developed its Freight program, which has outlived the self-driving truck program. Think of it as Uber’s original ride-hailing app, but for truckers and cargo instead of drivers and passengers. It’s grown from three primary regions to covering the entire U.S.

Meanwhile, Tesla and Waymo are still involved in autonomous truck development. Daimler also has goals to put self-driving trucks on the road soon. Autonomous trucks aren’t gone, but a major player is out of the game.

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Author:Sasha Lekach

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