Uber Acquires Self-Driving Truck Startup Otto

Alexandria Sage/Reuters

Ridesharing company Uber said it has acquired Otto, a startup firm that is developing a self-driving aftermarket kit for heavy-duty trucks. Financial terms were not disclosed.

“Together, we now have one of the strongest autonomous engineering groups in the world,” Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick said in the Aug. 18 announcement.

The transaction adds Uber to the list of technology companies, suppliers and truck manufacturers pushing to create automated driving technology for commercial vehicles.

San Francisco-based Otto, founded in January by former Google engineers, has said its technology will enable longhaul trucks already operating on the road today to drive themselves.

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The system incorporates onboard cameras, radar and lidar sensors that monitor the truck’s surroundings while an onboard computer and software make driving decisions based on that information.

Uber, meanwhile, has been developing and testing self-driving technology for passenger cars at its Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh.

In fact, Bloomberg News reported that Uber would begin letting users hail self-driving cars in downtown Pittsburgh from their smartphones by the end of August.

Kalanick said Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski now will lead Uber’s combined self-driving efforts — across personal transportation, delivery and trucking — in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Palo Alto, California.

“Together with Uber, we will create the future of commercial transportation: first, self-driving trucks that provide drivers unprecedented levels of safety; and second, a platform that matches truck drivers with the right load wherever they are,” Otto said on its website.

The company said those technologies will give rise to a self-driving freight system that will improve conditions for drivers and address the industry’s labor shortage and high turnover rates.

“Our self-driving trucks will allow drivers to rest while their truck is moving, and our platform will ensure drivers can easily find loads and are paid fairly,” Otto said.

Otto has about 90 workers, Uber said. The technology startup has said its staff includes former employees at Google, Apple and Tesla, among others.

Separately, Uber also announced a $300 million joint venture with Volvo Cars to develop base vehicles that will be able to incorporate the latest developments in autonomous driving technologies.

The Swedish car maker will manufacture the base vehicles, which Uber will then purchase from Volvo.

Uber’s Kalanick said the partnership with Volvo is “crucial to our self-driving strategy because Uber has no experience making cars.”

“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,” he said.