A self-driving truck of Uber-owned company Otto

Uber ceases development of driverless trucks

Image credit: Reuters

Uber has announced it has ceased developing self-driving trucks in favour of focusing solely on its driverless car project.

The ride-hailing service purchased Otto in 2016 which retrofitted semi-trucks with radars, cameras and laser sensors to make them capable of driving themselves. In October of that year, the trucks were used commercially for the first time to deliver a shipment of Budweiser beer across half of the state of Colorado. Uber had unveiled plans earlier this year to integrate manual trucking with self-driving trucks by deploying the former for short hauls and the latter for longer distances.

Trucking has been viewed by transportation experts as a natural application for self-driving technology because of the relative predictability of highways compared with busy city streets.

“We believe having our entire team’s energy and expertise focused on (self-driving cars) is the best path forward,” said Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group. “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.”

In March an Uber vehicle in autonomous driving mode hit and killed a woman while she was crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona resulting in a temporary cessation of its driverless programme. Uber Freight, which has seen “rapid” growth, is unaffected by the decision, the company said. Uber said it will move employees working on self-driving trucks to other internal roles within autonomous vehicle development.

Earlier this year Uber became embroiled in a court case with the Google sister company Waymo which is also developing driverless cars, following allegations that former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, who founded Otto prior to its purchase by Uber, downloaded 9.7GB of “highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation” for developing autonomous vehicle technology.

Tesla is also developing electric trucks with driverless technology and production on the vehicles is expected to begin next year.

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