Uber was reportedly approached by an unnamed automaker about a potential acquisition of its self-driving business, according to The Information. The idea was shot down by Uber execs, but the approach did prompt debate at the ride-hailing company around potentially partnering with an automaker on development of self-driving tech, possibly even through the formation of a joint venture.
Uber’s self-driving effort is housed under its Advanced Technology Group, which is based primarily in Pittsburgh and includes a staff heavy with Carnegie Mellon alumni and former students whose prior research was in the field of robotics and autonomous driving.
Self-driving is an area where Uber has so far sought to develop its own technology, though it uses vehicles from automakers including Volvo and Ford, along with sensor hardware from various component suppliers to test its sensor fusion and autonomous software systems. The company has piloted self-driving service trials in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, as well as Tempe, Arizona, but these are staffed by safety drivers and engineers and still include a lot of manual takeovers where the autonomous system is disengaged.
Uber also has been facing an ongoing legal battle with Alphabet’s Waymo regarding its self-driving program, and the company’s annual expenditures extend well into the billions, in part because it has taken on the significant challenge of developing self-driving technology on its own.
Rival Lyft has opted to mostly partner with companies focused on self-driving, in an effort to concentrate on the routing and ride-hailing aspects of potential future autonomous services. Uber also has announced a deal with Daimler around self-driving, but that’s focused on its open platform, which carmakers will be able to plug into with their own independently developed self-driving vehicles.
Last year, Uber was reported to be in talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles around some kind of partnership on self-driving, but much has changed at Uber in the interim, including its legal spat with Waymo and ongoing leadership overhaul.
The Information reports that no resolution of its potential plans around changes to its approach to self-driving are expected until after Uber secures a new CEO (the position is still vacant after founder Travis Kalanick’s much-publicized departure) and resolves its Waymo legal troubles.