Uber is looking beyond being just a ride-hailing company and wants its cars to be self driving so as to replace human drivers with robot drivers — as quickly as possible.
Now, with an announcement yesterday that it is acquiring self-driving truck startup Otto, it appears the company wants to be in the truck business as well.
Otto was founded six months ago by former key Google employees who worked on the search company’s self-driving car program.
The purchase price has not been disclosed, but Bloomberg estimates $680 million.
San Francisco-based Otto already is testing four big rig trucks that steer themselves on Bay Area highways, and, like Uber, has no interest in becoming a vehicle manufacturer.
Instead, it is developing a $30,000 aftermarket autonomous-driving kit that can be installed on existing long-haul trucks that would, in theory, free up the driver to nap in the sleeper compartment at the rear of the cabin.
In its own blog post, Otto said that its platform would also create a freight network to link drivers and shippers in a way that is financially beneficial for everyone.
According to Bloomberg, the technology will eventually be used to start a cargo service for long-haul trucking, and will be designed to work with Uber’s current intercity delivery services.
Perhaps the biggest immediate benefit for Uber is, Otto makes its own laser detection, or LiDAR, system used in many self-driving cars. Merged with the data collected by Uber’s drivers, the truck system will quickly improve its self-driving mapping and navigation systems.
Yesterday was a very busy day for Uber.
In addition to announcing the Otto deal and a partnership with Volvo to develop autonomous driving for the Swedish automaker’s XC90 SUV, it revealed a self-driving program, a first of its kind.
Starting later this month, it will allow Uber customers in downtown Pittsburgh, Pa. to summon self-driving cars from their phones.
Equipped with dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers, the cars will have a professionally trained engineer behind the steering wheel and a copilot in the front passenger seat with a laptop for taking notes.
At first, the trips will be free, rather than the standard rate of $1.30 per mile.
Uber has quickly expanded its self-driving division, opening an Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh with robotic engineers and researchers lured away from universities and large tech firms.
These announcements, along with previous partnerships and alliances, put Uber a half step ahead of Google, which is devising its own ride-sharing service using self-driving cars.