Uber’s fraught and deadly pursuit of self-driving cars is over

Uber is promoting its autonomous car enterprise to Aurora Improvements, a San Francisco-based startup based by the previous head engineer of Google’s self-driving automotive undertaking, the 2 corporations introduced Monday.

As a part of the deal, Aurora’s self-driving vehicles will ultimately function on Uber’s ride-hailing platform. Uber will make investments $400 million in Aurora and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will be part of the startup’s board of administrators.

It’s unclear whether or not the acquisition will lead to any layoffs. “Aurora has dedicated to creating affords to nearly all of ATG staff,” an Uber spokesperson mentioned. “We’re working by means of the main points with Aurora and can notify our groups within the coming weeks.”

The deal marks the tip of Uber’s bold dream of changing it’s fleet of human-powered taxis with robotic drivers. The ride-hailing firm believed that by pouring tens of millions of {dollars} into creating its personal know-how, it might remove its important value issue — drivers — and take over the world of transportation with low-cost, plentiful autonomous automobiles.

As a substitute, Uber confronted one catastrophe of its personal making after one other. The corporate was sued by Waymo for allegedly stealing the Google offshoot’s commerce secrets and techniques. The businesses ultimately settled, however Uber’s former star engineer (and ex-Googler) Anthony Levandowski was not too long ago sentenced to 18 months in jail for the crime.

Extra troubling than that, although, was the loss of life of Elaine Herzberg in March 2018. The 49-year-old girl was struck and killed by a self-driving Uber car whereas strolling her bike throughout the road in Tempe, Arizona. It was doubtless the primary recognized fatality by an autonomous car.

After a prolonged investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board split the blame between Uber, the security driver, the sufferer, and the state of Arizona in a blistering official report that additionally took the federal authorities to job for failing to correctly regulate the business. The corporate was cleared of any prison wrongdoing by native authorities. Uber settled a lawsuit with Herzberg’s household for an undisclosed sum. Police later filed prison costs towards Uber’s security driver, claiming she wasn’t watching the highway however was as an alternative streaming The Voice on her cellphone on the time of the crash.

After the crash, Uber resumed testing its self-driving vehicles however in a a lot diminished capability. The corporate’s Volvo SUVs had been solely allowed to function in a closed loop in downtown Pittsburgh, the place the Superior Applied sciences Group is headquartered. The corporate not too long ago unveiled its third-generation vehicle, with plans to start testing in Washington, DC, and its hometown of San Francisco.

However the coronavirus pandemic has pulled the rug out from beneath Uber, which has by no means had a worthwhile quarter in its existence. With the evaporation of demand of its ride-hailing enterprise, Khosrowshahi has been pushing to dump the money-losing components of the enterprise in his pursuit of profitability. Most not too long ago, Uber reportedly bought its air taxi division to a California-based startup known as Joby Aviation.

Aurora is an attention-grabbing selection for a purchaser. The startup was based in 2016 by former lead engineer for Google’s self-driving undertaking Chris Urmson. His co-founders are Sterling Anderson, who helped lead Tesla’s Mannequin X undertaking, and Drew Bagnell, who ran a analysis lab at Carnegie Mellon then left to work on autonomous automobiles at Uber. The corporate is pursuing autonomous semi vans (which Uber was additionally engaged on however ultimately deserted) in addition to self-driving taxis.

Thus far, Aurora has raised $690 million in funding, and Urmson has been hailed because the “Henry Ford of autonomous vehicles,” due to his work serving to to pioneer Google’s self-driving automotive initiative. Fiat Chrysler, Hyundai, and EV startup Byton are additionally Aurora clients. The corporate raised half a billion {dollars} final yr in a funding round led by Amazon.

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