Uber and Otto Move Forward on Developing Self-Driving Truck Technologies

Ride-hailing giant Uber and its newly acquired self-driving truck startup Otto are working out their next moves, Otto’s co-founder said.

Otto plans to expand its fleet of trucks from six to about 15 and is setting up partnerships with independent truckers, Otto co-founder Lior Ron told Reuters. Next year, Otto-branded trucks and other trucks equipped with Otto technology will start hauling freight deliveries to warehouses and stores, he said.

Uber plans to make Otto the leader in self-driving truck technologies in the freight hauling business. The ride-hailing company has begun selling services to shippers, trucks fleets, and independent truck drivers.

The company has ambitious shipping services in the works, and will would like to compete directly with brokers well established in connecting truck fleets and shippers. Reuters was told by an executive at another company that he had been approached by Uber about hauling goods. Uber had bragged about recent hires and cutting edge trucking technologies that it had to offer, the executive said.

Uber acquired Otto in August for an undisclosed amount, estimated to be about $680 million by Reuters. Uber is investing heavily on robotics replacing human drivers, including its self-driving car project in Pittsburgh that’s now open to the general public to ride along.

Otto was founded earlier this year by former key Google employees who worked on the search company’s self-driving car program.

Otto is considered to be a platform for Uber to test out other technologies needed in autonomous vehicles. These include navigation, mapping, and tracking that can be deployed even as work continues on self-driving systems.

Ron said Otto also aims to partner with the industry, and that “thousands” of owner-operator truck drivers have reached out to the company.

“We are talking with everyone,” he said. “We don’t want to develop technology just for the sake of technology.”

Uber and Otto also face competition from a growing number of startups, such as Transfix, Convoy, and Cargo Chief. They’re aiming to knock out traditional shipping brokers by matching shippers with their own new technologies, and cutting operating costs for freight companies.

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The trucking business is Uber’s investment in leveraging the mapping and logistics expertise the ride-hailing company has gained. Delivering passengers and food in cities through its recently started UberRush and UberEats brands has added to its knowledge and experience.

“This is really about connecting the dots, connecting the shippers and the carriers,” Ron said. “We are building that on the long-haul piece. Uber, through UberRush and UberEats, built that on the urban piece.”

Ron says that Otto’s autonomous driving technology is still in a “testing regimen.” The trucks can drive by themselves on highways, with two copilots as backup, but driving out on interstate highways is still very new for the companies.

“This is all about putting it on the road,” Ron said, “collecting the miles.”

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