SAN FRANCISCO: Uber agreed to sell its autonomous car division to Aurora in a deal that gives the ride-hailing giant a stake in the startup developing self-driving technology, the companies said Monday. As part of the deal, Uber will invest $400 million in Aurora to merge the teams from both firms seeking to advance the technology for autonomous ride-hailing and will hold a 26 percent stake in Aurora.
“By adding the people and technology of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group to the incredible group we’ve already assembled at Aurora, we’re shifting the landscape of the automated vehicle space,” said Chris Urmson, co-founder and chief executive of Aurora, which has been backed by Amazon and South Korean carmaker Hyundai, among others.
Sale of Uber’s autonomous driving unit, which was temporarily stalled several years back after a fatal crash, comes as it streamlines operations to navigate a ride-share market scuttle by the pandemic. Uber did not appear to be giving up on self-driving cars, which have been part of its vision for a profitable ride-share business, but was instead swapping the unit for a stake in Aurora Innovation.
“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,” Urmson said. “Simply put, Aurora will be the company best positioned to deliver the self-driving products necessary to make transportation and logistics safer, more accessible, and less expensive.” Along with acquiring ATG, Aurora announced a strategic partnership with Uber to mesh its technology with the leading smartphone-summoned ride service, according to the companies. The companies expected the self-driving technology to be initially put to use for long-haul trucking.
Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi is joining the Aurora board of directors as part of the deal. The merged firm will work on the technology to be known as Aurora Driver. “Few technologies hold as much promise to improve people’s lives with safe, accessible, and environmentally friendly transportation as self-driving vehicles,” Khosrowshahi said. “I’m looking forward to working with Chris, and to bringing the Aurora Driver to the Uber network in the years ahead.”
Uber’s autonomous vehicle aspirations took a after a US investigation into the death of a pedestrian struck by a self-driving Uber car in 2018 faulted driver inattention along with “inadequate” safety measures implemented by the company. It also struggled as a result of litigation by former Google car unit Waymo claiming Uber had misappropriated trade secrets on autonomous technology.
Waymo opened its robo-taxi project to the general public in the US city of Phoenix in October, becoming the first widely available driverless ride service. Aurora, founded by an engineer for formerly worked on the Google autonomous vehicle team, has backing from Amazon and Fiat Chrysler. Japanese car giant Toyota and investment fund SoftBank Vision Fund have made investments Uber’s autonomous driving unit. – AFP