Waymo is teaming up with Uber on autonomous trucking because time really heals all wounds
Waymo and Uber, former legal foes and bitter rivals in the autonomous vehicle space, are teaming up to speed up the adoption of driverless trucks. Waymo is integrating Uber Freight, the ride-hail company’s truck brokerage, into the technology that powers its autonomous big rigs.
This “long-term strategic partnership” will enable fleet owners to more quickly deploy trucks equipped with Waymo’s autonomous “driver” for on-demand delivery routes offered by Uber Freight, the companies said.
The announcement represents a convergence between two of the companies’ major side projects. Waymo divides its autonomous projects into two divisions: Waymo One, its consumer ride-hailing service, and Waymo Via, which is focused on goods delivery in both trucking and local delivery formats. Uber Freight, which launched in 2017, connects truck drivers with shippers, much in the same way the company’s ride-hailing app pairs drivers with those looking for a ride.
Waymo describes the team-up as a “deep integration” of each company’s products, including a jointly developed “product roadmap” to outline how autonomous trucks will get deployed on Uber’s network once they are commercial ready. Until then, Waymo says it will use Uber Freight with its own test fleet to better understand how driverless trucks will receive and accept delivery orders.
But the partnership goes beyond just beta testing each other’s technology. Waymo said it will reserve “billions of miles of its goods-only capacity for the Uber Freight network” in a capacity commitment meant to underscore the seriousness of this partnership.
It wasn’t long ago that Waymo and Uber were locked in a grueling standoff over the future of autonomous vehicles. In February 2017, the Alphabet-owned company sued Uber and its subsidiary, self-driving truck startup Otto, over allegations of trade secret theft and patent infringement. Waymo sought $1.4 billion and a public apology from Uber, but the ride-hail company rejected it as a non-starter.
The case went to trial almost a year later, but ended quickly when the two sides reached a surprise settlement agreement. Uber later admitted that it misappropriated some of Waymo’s tech and vowed to license it for future use. Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer and the founder of Otto, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing Waymo’s trade secrets but was later pardoned by former President Donald Trump.
There is no mention of past indiscretions in the announcement. Uber had been developing its own self-driving truck as part of its larger investment in autonomous technology but later off-loaded it to Aurora, a startup founded by the former head of Waymo when it was just Google’s self-driving car project. Ballooning costs, plus the tragedy in Arizona when an Uber self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian, forced Uber to pull the plug on its AV project.
Waymo has made a flurry of deals in recent months aimed at growing its nascent trucking business. The Google spinoff has said it has no plans to own or operate its own fleet of trucks and instead will work with truck manufacturers, carriers, and brokers to integrate its technology into the business of hauling freight.
Uber Freight also is not a fleet owner, but the companies predict their integration will lead to “unlocking much-needed capacity for shippers, increasing fuel efficiency, providing carriers with the opportunity to scale their businesses, and ultimately streamlining global supply chains to the benefit of everyone.”