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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 August 2018

Uber ditches driverless trucks programme

Staff at Uber Freight autonomous lorries unit will work on robot cars or be offered spots elsewhere in the company.

Uber said it will not now pursue its plan to develop robot lorries.  AP
Uber said it will not now pursue its plan to develop robot lorries.  AP

Uber is hitting the brakes on self-driving trucks, shifting gears to focus just on autonomous cars.

The US company is among a number of technology and car companies racing toward what some contend is an inevitable future in which vehicles drive themselves.

Uber's aspirations had included self-driving trucks, with the smartphone-summoned-ride service revving that effort with the purchase of start-up Otto two years ago.

"We've decided to stop development of our self-driving truck programme and move forward exclusively with cars," Eric Meyhofer, head of Uberadvanced technologies group, told Agence France-Presse.

"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."

San Francisco-based Uber had suspended its self-driving car programme after a crash that killed a woman pushing a bicycle in a street in Arizona in March of this year.

The company has a version of the ride service that matches truck drivers with loads in need of hauling.

In the absence of an urgent need for self-driving trucks to keep Uber Freight competitive, members of that team will work on autonomous cars or be offered spots elsewhere in the company.

Uber Freight has become a national operation since launching in May of 2017. The unit, which has seen "rapid" growth, is unaffected by the decision, the company said, according to Reuters.

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Otto co-founder Lior Ron left Uber in the weeks after the fatal accident in Arizona, according to media reports.

Mr Ron and co-founders including Anthony Levandowski, started Otto in early 2016. The start-up was bought by Uber nine months later in a deal valued at more than $500 million, AFP said.

Uber had unveiled plans earlier this year to integrate manual trucking with self-driving trucksby deploying the former for short hauls and the latter for longer distances.

"We believe having our entire team's energy and expertise focused on [self-driving cars] is the best path forward," Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, told Reuters.

San Francisco-based Uber faces competition from Silicon Valley companies including Tesla and Alphabet's Waymo as well as traditional car makers such as Ford and General Motors in the race to bring self-driving cars to the market.

Mr Levandowski was a central figure in a blockbuster federal lawsuit filed by Waymo against Uber claiming trade secrets were stolen from the self-driving car project where he worked before leaving to start Otto.

A trial was taking place when Waymo and Uber in February announced a surprise agreement to resolve the legal clash.

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