Uber’s foray into developing self-driving trucks appears to have come to an end for the time being. The head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, Eric Meyhofer, stated that Uber has decided to stop its operations in developing self-driving trucks to focus exclusively on developing self-driving car technology. Meyhofer went on to say that because the company’s self-driving cars have recently returned to the roads for testing purposes on public roads in Pittsburg that the company will shift to focusing exclusively on devoting their energy to their autonomous cars operation. The return to public roads for Uber’s self-driving trucks comes after a few months off the road following an incident where a woman was hit and killed in Tempe, Arizona by one of the company’s test vehicles. Uber has made it a point since then to test their automobiles by having humans behind the wheel rather than being completely autonomous.
Uber’s venture into self-driving trucks came after their acquisition of Otto in 2016 for 700 million dollars. The self-driving truck startup, Otto, was co-founded by Anthony Levandowski, a former Google Waymo engineer who allegedly stole secrets from Waymo prior to his departure from the company, where he joined Uber shortly thereafter. A law suit by Waymo soon followed with Levandowski in the center of it all. Google and Uber eventually settled the dispute and has since announced a potential partnership between Waymo and Uber. Levandowski has since been fired by Uber and is now working on a new startup that is being held closely under wraps, known as Kache.Ai. Kache in Chinese means truck, yet the mission and intentions of the company are still unclear.
Uber has stated that Waymo employees will either relocate their efforts to working on the self-driving cars division or be provided severance packages. They also went on to say that although this marks the dissolution of its self-driving trucks division, Uber Freight will not be affected. Uber Freight is a service that connects truck drivers and shippers that allows them to then book freight for a set price through the app. In essence Uber Freight serves as the broker between flatbed shipping companies and flatbed truck companies.
Self-driving trucks have the potential to disrupt the industry; however, Otto was the clear leader of this initiative and with the company now likely being dissolved soon, it appears there isn’t anyone leading the space for this market. The race for autonomous cars is underway as you read this article, with supremacy for the space being battled over as major companies and smaller startups push their R&D and testing efforts. It is expected that only 3-5 companies will occupy the space when the technology does hit the roads for commercial purposes. A flatbed trucking company could revolutionize the way it does business with autonomous vehicles at its disposal by eliminating the need to abide by ELD regulations. But when autonomous cars hit the road, it is likely that technology will be able to be quickly translated into self-driving truck technology as well. Despite the similarities between developing the two technologies, a flatbed truck company differs far more than a commercial self-driving car due to the regulation’s flatbed transportation companies must adhere to and the complexities involved with moving freight, particularly when it comes to a flatbed heavy hauling company moving freight. Uber Freight also has the potential to disrupt the transportation logistics industry by cutting out the middlemen via the use of technology. This could result in cheaper shipping costs and less time shippers and drivers spend looking for a load. The service is still relatively new however so it it’s potential to disrupt the industry is still unclear.