Uber closing self-driving truck division, refocusing on cars

Uber closing self-driving truck division, refocusing on cars

Uber is pulling down the shutters on its self-driving trucks unit, a programme rooted in the $680 million acquisition of San Francisco-based Otto in 2016.

The company has announced that it is now refocusing its efforts on self-driving cars as it gears up for IPO in 2019.

Last week, Uber’s head of advanced technologies, Eric Meyhofer, confirmed that the company’s fleet of self-driving cars is being redeployed to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to resume public testing.

Uber’s autonomous vehicles were pulled from public roads in March, following a fatal collision with a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. In the aftermath, it became clear that responsibility lay both with the vehicle’s onboard safety systems and the safety driver who was behind the wheel at the time of the crash.

Meyhofer outlined the steps that Uber has taken to improve safety and regain the trust of transport authorities. These include beginning tests in manual mode, the upgrade of safety drivers to ‘mission specialists’, and the addition of a second Uber employee in the passenger seat to “document notable events”.

Freight: not shutting

The decision to shut the trucks unit emphasises Uber’s renewed focus on frictionless personal mobility. However, Uber Freight, a business unit that helps truck drivers connect with shipping companies, is unaffected by the decision, suggesting that Uber is retaining its focus on driver services, too.

Earlier this year, Uber announced its soft relaunch as a hub for all forms of connected personal transport, having diversified into electric bike hire and metro ticketing. It is also developing pilotless air taxis.

Plus: Uber faces cap in New York

In related news, New York City is considering capping the number of Uber and Lyft (LYFT) vehicles on its roads.

One measure under consideration by city authorities is to freeze new licenses for a year. Another would create a new category and licence framework for ride-hailing firms, which would allow authorities to limit the number of licences to avoid saturating the local market.

Internet of Business says

The sense that Uber is now a more mature, focused, and businesslike company is growing. Certainly, its Wild West days will need to be put behind it as it prepares for what will be a popular IPO – economic conditions permitting.

But not everything is going Uber’s way as it puts its house in order and wins the cautious support of city authorities.

As Internet of Business reported earlier this month, the effective merger between Uber and local provider Grab in Southeast Asia has run into trouble with the market regulator in Singapore, which has warned that the deal may need to be undone. This could impede Uber’s plans in the Middle East, where it plans a similar deal with local provider, Careem.

Chris Middleton
Chris Middleton is former editor of Internet of Business, and now a key contributor to the title. He specialises in robotics, AI, the IoT, blockchain, and technology strategy. He is also former editor of Computing, Computer Business Review, and Professional Outsourcing, among others, and is a contributing editor to Diginomica, Computing, and Hack & Craft News. Over the years, he has also written for Computer Weekly, The Guardian, The Times, PC World, I-CIO, V3, The Inquirer, and Blockchain News, among many others. He is an acknowledged robotics expert who has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITN, and Talk Radio, and is probably the only tech journalist in the UK to own a number of humanoid robots, which he hires out to events, exhibitions, universities, and schools. Chris has also chaired conferences on robotics, AI, IoT investment, digital marketing, blockchain, and space technologies, and has spoken at numerous other events.