Surrounded by controversies, Uber seems to be struggling with its autonomous vehicle technology business. Back in 2015, it established Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) in Pittsburgh for developing autonomous driving technology for vehicles. It hired researchers particularly from the robotics department of Carnegie Melon University to speed up the development of autonomous technology. After just a year, in May 2016, Uber started its autonomous driving trials. In August 2016, the company started its autonomous taxi services.
Uber is now among the leading companies for the development and deployment of its driving technology. However, the progress in the autonomous vehicle technology was disrupted in March 2018, when a pedestrian was killed during its autonomous test drive in Arizona. It was the first ever incident where a person was killed by an autonomous vehicle. After the incident, its reputation got adversely affected, and the company also halted its autonomous driving rides in other cities.
In 2017, Waymo filed a lawsuit accusing its former engineer Anthony Levandowski, who joined Uber subsidiary Otto for making self-driving technology for trucks, for stealing trade secrets. Initially Uber denied such allegation, though eventually he was fired. The company closed its controversial self-driving truck business in July 2018 by saying that it wants to focus on building the technology for just self-driving cars.
With the substantial losses, the company’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, contemplating to sell its ATG business or develop partnerships for further pursuing the business. There is also increasing pressure from the investors about the future direction of its autonomous business. So far, the company is on track to go public in 2019 to raise some capital.
This week, Toyota announced to invest $500 million in the company, along with technical support aiming to bring self-driving Toyota Sienna minivans on roads by 2021. However, autonomous vehicle business model has many unknowns. How to commercialise the technology to make the driverless business profitable, Uber needs to make many adjustments in its business model.
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