Two years after Uber bought self-driving truck developer Otto to the tune of $680 million, the ride hailing company announced on Monday that the Uber Advanced Technologies Group is shuttering its autonomous truck unit. The company remains committed to further developing its self-driving car platform, which has only killed one pedestrian so far. Uber Freight, a separate service that helps connect shipping companies with drivers, is being spared as well. "We've decided to stop development on our self-driving truck program and move forward exclusively with cars. 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," Eric Meyhofer, Head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, said in an email statement to Engadget.
The self-driving freight truck startup TuSimple has been carrying mail across the state of Arizona for several weeks. UPS announced on Thursday that its venture capital arm has made a minority investment in TuSimple. The announcement also revealed that since May TuSimple autonomous trucks have been hauling UPS loads on a 115-mile route between Phoenix and Tucson. UPS confirmed to Gizmodo this is the first time UPS has announced it has been using TuSimple autonomous trucks to deliver packages in the state. Around the same time as the UPS and TuSimple program began, the United States Postal Service and TuSimple publicized a two-week pilot program to deliver mail between Phoenix and Dallas, a 1,000 mile trip.
In the U.S. alone, revenues from the trucking industry rose to $796.7 billion in 2018, up from $700.1 billion the previous year, according to the American Trucking Associations. Trucks moved more than 70% of the country's freight. A major factor for businesses in choosing self-driving trucks is greater fuel efficiency, which cuts fuel costs by at least 15%, according to Plus.ai. "There's no question that autonomous trucks will be ready before autonomous cars," Plus.ai COO and co-founder Shawn Kerrigan said in a statement to CNBC.
Uber's self-driving truck program feels like it just took off, but after a court trial and several major leadership changes, it's been a long road to a dead-end announced Monday. Back in 2016, Uber acquired Otto -- former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski's self-driving truck startup -- and Uber's self-driving truck program was born. Then Levandowski was sued for taking trade secrets from Google and bringing them to Uber in the acquisition. That was mainly about the LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) laser and sensor technology that uses light to help the autonomous vehicles "see" the road and world around them. Levandowski was effectively fired before the whole saga turned into the lengthy Waymo (Google's autonomous vehicles team) v. Uber case, which ended in a $245 million settlement a few months ago.
Two years after Uber paid $680 million to buy the self-driving truck startup Otto, the company is folding that effort. In this photo from 2016, an Otto engineer sits behind the steering wheel of a self-driving, big-rig truck during a demonstration in San Francisco. Two years after Uber paid $680 million to buy the self-driving truck startup Otto, the company is folding that effort. In this photo from 2016, an Otto engineer sits behind the steering wheel of a self-driving, big-rig truck during a demonstration in San Francisco. Uber is shutting down its self-driving truck program, nearly six months after it settled a lawsuit from Waymo, the Google spinoff that accused Uber of using its proprietary designs.