Uber ends autonomous-vehicle pursuit, sells to Pittsburgh-based Aurora Innovation

By: - December 9, 2020 6:30 am

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By Ryan Deto

The ride-hailing giant Uber announced Tuesday that it will be ending its autonomous-vehicle program, and selling the division to Aurora Innovations, which also works in the autonomous-vehicle industry and has an office in the Strip District.

Uber’s Advanced Technology Group had been working on developing autonomous vehicles for several years in Pittsburgh, and their AVs were tested on Pittsburgh streets.

According to tech site The Verge, Aurora’s self-driving vehicle will eventually operate on the Uber platform, and Uber is investing $400 million in Aurora. It is not yet clear if the acquisition will result in any layoffs.

“Aurora has committed to making offers to the majority of ATG employees,” an Uber spokesperson told The Verge. “We are working through the details with Aurora and will notify our teams in the coming weeks.”

Uber’s sale of its AV division isn’t much of a surprise. The sale had been hinted at last month, and Uber cut 350 AV jobs last year.

After a flashy roll-out, the autonomous vehicle industry has hit several snags, and many companies, including AV companies that operate out of Pittsburgh, have tempered expectations for what AVs can accomplish. Last year, the CEO of Argo AI wrote that his autonomous-vehicle company is currently designing self-driving cars to only operate within “specific areas of a city” and that the autonomous vehicle system won’t be created for individual ownership.

Uber officials told Pittsburgh City Paper in 2019, “There’s too much to perfect to enable a 100% autonomous future, and we really do need the skilled expertise of drivers to handle the more challenging scenarios that are not ideal use cases for AVs.”

A 2019 report from the National Transportation Safety Board said that Uber’s self-driving cars can’t detect pedestrians who walk outside of crosswalks, and other shortcomings. An Uber AV struck and killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg outside of a business district in Tempe, Ariz. in 2018. A few days before the Tempe crash, an Uber AV in Pittsburgh swerved onto the sidewalk and continued driving without the technology correcting the behavior, according to a whistleblower.

Even so, the autonomous vehicle industry has seen growth in Pittsburgh, due in part to Carnegie Mellon University and its stellar robotics and artificial intelligence programs. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was an early booster of AV companies in the region, and he is glad the sale of Uber to Aurora ensures the industry will continue in the city.

“The self-driving vehicle industry was born in Pittsburgh and through this agreement will continue to grow here,” said Peduto in a statement. “The industry employs thousands of Pittsburghers directly, and with this purchase Aurora is assuring it will continue to thrive here and Pittsburgh will remain a global technology hub.”

Ryan Deto is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared. 

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