What a monumental day in the development of Uber’s self-driving cars.
Today Uber announced a $300 million deal with Volvo to co-develop self-driving cars, the pending launch of a self-driving car service in Pittsburgh, and the acquisition of Otto, a startup founded by former Google employee’s that has been developing self-driving trucks.
Uber said it will purchase Volvo cars and install its own driverless control system for the specific needs of its ride-hailing service, which could launch this month in downtown Pittsburgh. Uber said 100 modified Volvo XC90s will be supervised by humans in the driver’s seat at the start. The self-driving Volvo’s feature dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers.
But the acquisition of Otto might be even more important than Uber’s self-driving car service. Otto has an extremely talented team of engineers, led by former Google employees Anthony Levandowski, Lior Ron, Don Burnette, and Claire Delaunay. Otto has been developing a self-driving kit that can be retrofitted into trucks that are already on the road. Uber said that parts of Otto’s technology will be incorporated into its self-driving cabs and will be used to start an Uber-like service for long-haul trucking in the U.S.
In a blog, Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick announced that Levandowski will lead the combined self-driving efforts, across personal transportation, delivery and trucking, in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Pittsburgh.
Otto team and Uber’s Travis Kalanik. (Credit: Otto)
These partnerships couldn’t make more sense for all involved. Both Uber and Otto aren’t interested in manufacturing self-driving vehicles. And Volvo needs help on the technical side. So Uber will stay more than competitive with Google, which has plans for its own ride-sharing service using self-driving cars, and Volvo will stay in line with aggressive car companies like Ford, which earlier this week announced its lofty goal of selling self-driving cars for urban ride-sharing fleets by 2021.
Kalanick called the partnership between Otto and Uber a “dream team” while also praising Volvo, which “has consistently been a leader when it comes to safety. And partnership is crucial to our self-driving strategy because Uber has no experience making cars. To do it well is incredibly hard, as I realized on my first visit to a car manufacturing plant several years ago. By combining Uber’s self-driving technology with Volvo’s state-of-the art vehicles and safety technology, we’ll get to the future faster than going it alone.”
In its own blog confirming the deal, Otto said that “by joining forces with Uber we can fast forward to the future. Together, Otto and Uber can build the backbone of the rapidly-approaching self-driving freight system. We can help make transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone, whether you’re talking people or packages.”
Uber said it will continue its partnerships with other companies, including Ford and Toyota. But this is easily the most important day in Uber’s quest for self-driving car supremacy.