Uber has shut down its autonomous truck division and will instead focus its efforts on the testing and development of self-driving cars.
The new comes just short of two years after Uber acquired Otto, a self-driving truck startup, for a huge $680 million in stock. Soon afterwards, Uber showed off the technology by having a self-driving truck deliver a shipment of Budweiser beer on public roads in Colorado.
However, Uber's purchase of Otto was marred in controversy and sparked a legal dispute between Waymo, the autonomous car company owned by Google parent Alphabet, and Uber.
Waymo claimed Otto boss Anthony Levandowski stole its self-driving technology and created Otto as a shell company and a way to shift the technology to Uber for a profit. The two companies settled out of court, with Uber agreeing to hand over $245 million in shares.
Now, Uber will fold its autonomous truck division into its self-driving car unit, which only recently returned to the roads (and in manual, human-driven mode) after one of its vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona in March. The car was in autonomous mode at the time of the incident, but its safety driver was found to be looking down and had a TV show streaming to her phone moments before the impact.
Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber Advanced Technology Group, which oversees its autonomous driving efforts, said in a statement: "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."
While Uber's confidence has no doubt taken a knock since the incident in Arizona, it is surprising to see the company bail out of the driverless truck industry. It is generally believed that platooning trucks, where several autonomous semis follow one driven by a human, will reach commercial success before the far more complex autonomous taxi concept.
The shuttering of its autonomous truck division will not affect Uber Freight, the un-demand haulage company.