SOURCE–Uber’s self-driving trucks are now delivering commercial freight in Arizona, the company announced on Tuesday. This marks the beginning of the company realizing the ambitions it laid out when acquiring self-driving trucking startup, Otto, in August 2016.
Uber’s acquisition of Otto has not been without its roadblocks, however. Most notably, there was Alphabet’s lawsuit against the company over the acquisition, something Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said, when he agreed to settle the suit, could have been handled better.
But, as Recode first reported, there was also tension within the self-driving department over which of Uber’s two autonomous efforts took priority — was it the cars or trucks? Staffers who joined Uber as part of the Otto acquisition worried trucks would take a back seat to Uber’s original driverless ambitions of building cars to be used in its ride-hail network.
While former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said he wanted to acquire Otto as a means to hire one of its co-founders, Anthony Levandowski, Levandowski’s partner Lior Ron testified during the Alphabet lawsuit that being able to develop driverless trucks was non-negotiable. In fact, he decided to sell the company to Uber, instead of staying at Alphabet or selling to Lyft, because it was one of the few places that was open to creating a driverless trucking service.
Though Uber has spent the better part of its driverless PR efforts on promoting its semi-autonomous Volvos, it appears its driverless trucking efforts are a bit further along. It’s not because the trucks are more technically capable of driving autonomously than the cars — in fact, driving autonomously on the highway as these trucks are doing is much easier than driving on city streets — it’s because Uber has actually managed to commercialize the trucks.
The company wouldn’t specify how many self-driving trucks were operating in Arizona nor how many companies it was working with or the number of shipments that have been delivered. Uber simply said its self-driving trucks had performed “thousands” of rides since the beginning of the year, a “significant portion” of which have been in autonomous mode.