Uber is shifting its focus from the self-driving truck unit (based in San Francisco) inside its Advanced Technologies Group, the organisation announced in an email to the media. For the present, it’s stopping advancement on the self-driving trucks startup it procured from self-driving tech organisation Otto.
This shutdown though won’t affect Uber Freight which was announced last year and is meant to connect professional truck drivers with shippers looking to transport goods over a long distance. The shift in focus according to the company is meant allow them focus on self-driving cars instead (based in Pittsburgh).
Engineers on the self-driving truck project will now be reassigned to its autonomous car division in line with the new vision. But for those who can’t fit into the new plan maybe because of compatibly problems, there will a relocation or separation package set up for them.
Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group said in statement that
“We’ve decided to stop development on our self-driving truck program and move forward exclusively with cars.” He went on to say that “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.”
When asked separately by TechCrunch on the development, Meyhofer said “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.”
Now this doesn’t shut the door on self-driving trucks according to the statement which simply shows that the company may be focusing on making its self-driving cars a reality.
Uber bought Otto, a startup from former Google engineers Anthony Levandowski (who later joined the team as head of the self-driving division and was later fired) and Lior Ron in 2016 for about $680m. Levandowski was accused by Google’s self-driving unit Waymo of stealing the lidar technology from it which they said he brought to Otto and ultimately to Uber.
Uber’s self-driving was involved in a crash back in March that led to the death of the female pedestrian in Arizona. In response to the incident, Uber pulled all of its self-driving cars from public roads in the state as well as in the cities of San Francisco, Toronto, and Pittsburgh. But it is now planning to hit the roads of Pittsburgh once again. Going by this Medium post from Meyhofer, the cars will be manned by two employees and will be fitted with have an off-the-shelf, aftermarket monitoring system that is meant to prevent distractions. This is just one of the few ways they have come up with to prevent the Arizona incident.
Uber still argues that self-driving cars will change the way we transport ourselves and goods while reducing road deaths as well.