Uber’s self-driving trucks division is dead. Long live Uber self-driving cars

Uber is shuttering its self-driving trucks unit, a beleaguered program borne out of the company’s controversial multi-million acquisition of Otto nearly two years ago.

The company said Monday the Uber Advanced Technologies Group will stop development of self-driving trucks and instead focus its efforts on self-driving cars.

“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,” Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, said in an emailed statement.

Uber Freight, a business unit that helps truck drivers connect with shipping companies, is unaffected by this decision.

TechCrunch obtained an email sent by Meyhofer to employees.

As we work towards Uber’s mission of expanding access to safe, affordable movement of people and goods, it’s critical that ATG is set up to make self-driving technology a reality. Today, I want to let you know that after careful consideration, we’ve decided to stop development on our truck program and refocus our efforts solely on cars.

Uber’s self-driving trucks unit is based in San Francisco, while the team dedicated to self-driving cars is located in Pittsburgh. Uber says it will pivot employees  focused on self-driving trucks to other work that supports its ongoing development of self-driving technology. If there isn’t a comparable role, Uber will offer relocation to Pittsburgh or a separation package to support the transition.

Uber ATG will continue its in-house development of light detection and ranging radar known as LiDAR.

Uber’s self-driving truck efforts have been plagued by controversy since its beginning. Uber bought Otto, the self-driving trucks startup founded by former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski and three others including Lior Ron, who was head of product at Google Maps.

As part of the acquisition, Levandowski became head of Uber’s self-driving car research. (Documents filed as part of the lawsuit between Waymo and Uber suggest the pay out might have been as low as $220 million.)

Two months later the company enjoyed one moment of glory that received a lot of media attention: a self-driving truck that drove 120 highway miles along a route in Colorado with a trailer full of Budweiser.

But the buzz around the size of the Otto deal and its self-driving truck run in Colorado would soon be replaced with a different, more unwelcoming kind of attention.

Nine months after the acquisition, Uber was embroiled in a trade secrets lawsuit with Waymo, the former Google self-driving project that spun out to become a business under Alphabet. Waymo accused Levandowski of hatching a plan to use trade secrets related to Waymo’s in-house development of unique LiDAR tech to kickstart Otto’s and subsequently Uber’s own self-driving technology program.

Uber would later fire Levandowski.

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