Uber says it is shutting down its self-driving truck research division for the foreseeable future.
Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber Advanced Technologies group, said in an email to employees reviewed by Tech Crunch that Uber wants to build its forward momentum by focusing on its self-driving car technology. Once self-driving technology is more fully developed, Uber will apply it to commercial trucks.
“Rather than having two groups working side by side, focused on different vehicle platforms, I want us instead collaborating as one team,” Mr. Meyhofer said in the email. “I know we’re all super proud of what the Trucks team has accomplished, and we continue to see the incredible promise of self-driving technology applied to moving freight across the country. But we believe delivering on self-driving for passenger applications first, and then bringing it to freight applications down the line, is the best path forward. For now, we need the focus of one team, with one clear objective.”
The company said it will move its self-driving truck division employees from San Francisco to Pittsburgh, where its self-driving car division is located. Uber recently returned its autonomous vehicles to the road in Pittsburgh after it suspended its operations in other locations following a deadly March 8 collision between a self-driving Uber Volvo SUV and a pedestrian in Arizona.
But Uber’s self-driving truck division ran into trouble almost immediately after it acquired the unit from the startup Otto in October 2016. The acquisition triggered an intellectual property lawsuit by Google, which accused Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski of taking trade secrets when he left Waymo, the autonomous car division owned by Google and parent company Alphabet.
Uber ultimately settled the dispute when it agreed in February to pay Waymo about $245 million and promising not to use Waymo’s confidential technologies in any of its vehicles.
Uber’s decision to end its self-driving truck operations does not affect its Uber Freight unit, which connects commercial truck drivers to shippers using Uber’s location-based, ride-location app technology in much the same way that it connects Uber drivers to passengers needing a ride.