Uber announced Monday that it would be shutting down its self-driving truck program in order to focus on self-driving cars.
In an email obtained by TechCrunch, Uber Advanced Technologies Group head Eric Meyhofer wrote to employees, “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.”
Uber began developing the program when it acquired the autonomous truck startup Otto in 2016. That acquisition would later be the subject of Google’s intellectual property lawsuit against Uber. Anthony Levandowski, the co-founder of Otto, had been a head engineer at Waymo, Google’s self-driving car spinoff, before leaving to concentrate on his startup. Waymo accused Levandowski of taking trade secrets, in the form of photos, schematics, and emails, with him and providing them to Uber. The lawsuit was one of the many scandals that prompted Travis Kalanick, co-founder of Uber, to resign as CEO in 2017. Though Uber denies that it ever possessed any of the intellectual property, it agreed to settle the suit in February by paying Waymo a 0.34 equity stake, around $245 million, and by promising to never use any of Waymo’s confidential information.
Uber plans to reassign employees in the self-driving truck division, which was based in San Francisco, and may in some cases transfer people to Pittsburgh, where the self-driving car division is based. Uber began relaunching its autonomous unit in Pittsburgh last week after it had paused all testing in response to a fatal crash involving one of its self-driving cars in Arizona in March.
Though Uber is putting its plans on hold, other big tech companies are continuing to develop autonomous trucks. Waymo began testing self-driving trucks for delivering cargo in Georgia in March. Tesla is also on track to release a semi-autonomous electric semi-truck next year.
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