Uber Unloads Self-Driving Unit to Aurora

In a blog post Monday, Aurora Chief Executive Chris Urmson said Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group will join “the Aurora family,” adding that its “foundational work and combined expertise gives Aurora an unprecedented opportunity to lead the industry in both trucking and passenger mobility.”

On Monday, Uber announced the sale of their self-driving division to startup Aurora Innovation. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean the ride-hailing giant is deserting the autonomous vehicle space— and no, Aurora isn’t paying for the tech Uber has spent billions of dollars to develop.

Instead, Uber will put $400 milly into Aurora as part of the deal and will retain a 26% stake in the startup, according to the SEC. The two companies will also “collaborate with respect to the launch and commercialization of self-driving vehicles” on Uber’s network, the filing said. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will join Aurora’s board of directors.

Uber will unload its self-driving division, which has been plagued with controversy since 2018, when the first known fatality from a self-driving vehicle killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. Uber discontinued self-driving testing soon afterward, and though the company would resume testing, with the pandy negatively affecting its ride-hailing business and the company feeling investor pressure to turn a profit, Uber did the right thing.

Khosrowshahi said in a statement that “in joining forces with Aurora, [ATG] is now in position to deliver” on the promise of self-driving vehicles even faster.

In 2019, the company spent $960 million on research and development expenses for its Advanced Technologies Group and other technology initiatives. Then, 2017 through 2019, the ATG and other technology programs unit’s losses equaled $1.579 billion.

Aurora is a Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup co-founded in 2017 by Chris Urmson, one of the original leaders of Google’s self-driving car unit that later spun off into Waymo. It has raised $690 million, according to Crunchbase, backed by investors including companies such as Amazon and Hyundai Motor, and venture capital firms Greylock Partners and Sequoia Capital.

Another of Waymo’s leaders was Anthony Levandowski, whose hiring by Uber led to a trade-secrets lawsuit that cost the ride-hailing company $245 million to settle and, more significantly, autonomous-vehicle development time. Under the settlement reached in 2018, Uber also had to promise not to use Waymo technology in its self-driving cars. In August, Levandowski was sentenced to 18 months in prison for trade-secrets theft.

Company executives once said having cars that can drive on their own would be a salvation for their business. But the effort turned into a legal and financial headache.

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