Uber said on Monday that the company would sell its 1,200-person self-driving unit to the self-driving-tech developer Aurora. Uber is investing $400 million in Aurora as part of the contract, raising Aurora's value to $10 billion and tripling its workforce. The new CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, will also remain on Aurora's board of directors, reports Wired.
Uber ATG lost $303 million between January and September of this year, according to financial statements, and the firm invested more than $1 billion in its five years of existence.
Aurora is not intending to create a self-driving vehicle on its own; instead it is designing complex software that will control autonomous transports. It has concluded agreements with car manufacturers, including Hyundai, Byton, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Aurora is likely to win another huge partner through the Uber deal: Toyota. Last year the Japanese corporation invested $500 million in the Uber self-driving unit.
Aurora is testing the technology in the Bay Area, Pittsburgh and Dallas. The company also has offices in Bozeman, Montana, the former home of the Blackmore Lidar Company, which it acquired in 2019.
The sale of ATG continues another trend, of Uber narrowing its scope and selling off parts of its business as it seeks profitability. The ride-hail company—which once hoped to be an "Amazon for transportation"—offloaded its micromobility unit Jump to Lime this summer, and it sold part of its trucking logistics business, Uber Freight, this fall. Uber is also reportedly in talks to sell off its autonomous air taxi business, Elevate. Uber "remains committed to commercializing self-driving transportation on the Uber network through industry partnerships," spokesperson Sarah Abboud says.
Uber's self-driving efforts have been troubled. It was sued by Google sibling Waymo for trade-secret theft after acquiring another self-driving technology developer, Otto. After a buzzy few days of public trial in San Francisco, the two companies settled the case, with Uber promising to steer clear of Waymo's tech—a serious setback for the Uber hardware team. Anthony Levandowski, the Uber self-driving head at the center of the trade secrets case, was later charged by federal prosecutors for his role in the scheme; after pleading guilty, he is now serving an 18-month prison sentence.
In 2018, an Uber self-driving vehicle that was being tested struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. (The safety driver behind the wheel has since been charged with negligence.) The death—the self-driving industry's first—led Uber to halt testing for months while it reevaluated its safety systems and program. (The company didn't actually have an operational safety division at the time.) According to an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, Uber's organizational failures were at least partly responsible for the woman's death. Today, Uber is back on the road in a more limited capacity, testing in Pittsburgh and Washington, DC.
It's interesting, then, that Aurora cites Uber's safety systems as a key part of the acquisition. A blog post from Aurora CEO Chris Urmson also praises Uber's advances in software testing and its team's experience in building for ride-hail. Aurora said this summer that it expects its first commercialization efforts will happen in trucking instead of ride-hail, but on Monday it said that autonomous vehicles powered by its Aurora Driver would one day run on Uber's network.
Aurora, founded in 2017, already has deep roots in the Uber robotics team: Its CTO, Drew Bagnell, was a founding member of ATG and was one of the Carnegie Mellon professors lured to Uber in 2015. Urmson is an industry vet who once led what's now Waymo, when it was part of Google; Sterling Anderson, the company's other cofounder, helped Tesla launch Autopilot.