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Uber gives up on developing its own self-driving car

Uber has announced it’s selling its self-driving car unit, although it isn’t entirely cutting its interest in autonomous vehicles.

The company will sell its autonomous-vehicle unit — Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) — to Aurora, a Silicon Valley-based company founded in 2017 by former contributors to self-driving-car projects operated by Google (now Waymo) and Uber.

As part of the deal, Uber will invest $400 million in Aurora, and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will join Aurora’s board of directors.

The move brings to an end Uber’s sometimes highly controversial autonomous-vehicle program that launched in Pittsburgh in 2016 using modified Ford Fusion cars.

Trouble included a messy court battle in which a leading player in Uber’s self-driving efforts was accused of stealing trade secrets from Google, before it rebranded as Waymo. In August 2020, Anthony Levandowski pled guilty to one count of trade secret theft and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

But Uber’s lowest point came in March 2018 when one of its autonomous test vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. Elaine Herzberg, 49, was hit as she crossed a road at night. It was later confirmed that the safety driver had not been monitoring the road ahead at the time of the fatal accident, and that Uber’s vehicle had inadequate safety measures in place to deal with jaywalkers. Uber was swiftly banned from testing its autonomous vehicles while an investigation took place, with testing resuming nine months later under much stricter driving conditions.

This week’s announcement by Uber to end its interest in self-driving vehicles follows a similar move earlier this year when it sold its Jump e-scooter and e-bike business to Lime. Reports last week also suggested it could be about to offload its flying taxi unit, called Elevate, as the company focuses once again on its core businesses of ridesharing and meal delivery in a bid to become profitable.

Its investment in Aurora, however, means it hasn’t given up on its dream of one day operating a ridesharing service using autonomous vehicles.

Commenting on the acquisition, Chris Urmson, co-founder and CEO of Aurora, said: “By adding the people and technology of Uber’s ATG to the incredible group we’ve already assembled at Aurora, we’re shifting the landscape of the automated vehicle space. With the addition of ATG, Aurora will have an incredibly strong team and technology, a clear path to several markets, and the resources to deliver.”

Uber boss Khosrowshahi said: “Few technologies hold as much promise to improve people’s lives with safe, accessible, and environmentally friendly transportation as self-driving vehicles. For the last five years, our phenomenal team at ATG has been at the forefront of this effort, and in joining forces with Aurora, they are now in pole position to deliver on that promise even faster.”

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Trevor Mogg
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