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Uber Freight “not going anywhere” amid Uber’s self-driving truck shutdown

Following the announcement of the end of Uber’s self-driving truck program, Uber reached out to FreightWaves for an opportunity to discuss Uber Freight and to check the pulse on the self-driving industry.

According to Uber, “There are no implications for Uber Freight with the shutting down of the self-driving truck program. They were operating separate programs before this even happened, so there really is no effect. Uber Freight will continue on as usual, and it’s one of our fastest growing businesses within Uber, so it’s not going anywhere.”

“At a high level we’ve been rethinking our self-driving efforts, we’ve made the decision to focus on cars because we don’t feel we need to immediately be developing self-driving trucks to remain competitive in the freight logistics space” a spokesperson said.

Instead, they’re currently focused on “building out the network first to ensure we have a viable place to put this technology.”

“Given that Uber Freight has been growing as rapidly as it has, we think it’s the best use of time to focus on that and then explore self-driving technology for trucks down the line. We’re continuing to explore approaches to highway driving using the cars,” exploring new business opportunities, like self-driving trucks, in the future,” Uber stated.

Uber will also be reallocating employees from the self-driving truck division to the self-driving car division: “We’ll be moving folks over from the truck program to the car program, we continue to hire relatively aggressively for the car program. It’s great that we can move folks over who already have experience. We want to make sure we have all of the best people on the project. We want to use their expertise on the car program any way we can.”

When asked about miles per intervention metrics, a spokesperson for Uber acknowledged that “there is no standardization for metrics for self-driving vehicles or across the industry. It is up to the discretion of the company. We’re erring on the side of documenting every single thing. Everyone defines intervention differently.”

Following the March 2018 incident in Tempe, AZ, in which a self-driving Uber vehicle with a driver behind the wheel tragically struck a pedestrian, Uber notes that it has made “a set of initial safeguards that we believe will help improve overall safety.” Uber’s Head of Advanced Technologies Group, Eric Meyhofer, recently published information about the steps Uber has taken to “improve overall vehicle fleet safety and performance” as Uber’s self-driving vehicles return to the streets of Pittsburgh this summer.

Although Uber Freight “is not going anywhere,” according to Uber’s spokesperson, Uber’s message is clarified in nixing the self-driving truck program. Uber Freight’s driver-centric messaging seemed to be contradicted by its simultaneous determination to develop self-driving truck technology; the move to shut down the self-driving truck project will help Uber’s image in the trucking industry. “It’s a strategic business decision that we feel confident taking because Uber Freight is such a strong business for us,” a representative from Uber concluded. 

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