Uber has forged an alliance with Toyota of Japan to build self-driving cars for its ride-hailing service. The deal, announced on Monday August 27th, comes as competition mounts in the autonomous vehicle sector and ahead of a proposed stock exchange listing by Uber.
Toyota has promised a $500 million investment in the scheme, while Uber is hoping that the move to autonomous vehicles – and away from costly human drivers – will allow it to finally make the profits its investors have been dreaming of.
As reported by AP, Uber also hopes to repel a looming threat from another early investor, Google, whose self-driving car spin-off Waymo is set to launch its own ride-hailing service in Arizona before the end of this year.
"Our goal is to deploy the world's safest self-driving cars on the Uber network, and this agreement is another significant step towards making that a reality," said Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.
The deal fits in with Toyota’s vision for its future, as - like other major producers - it evolves from being a pure car maker into a "mobility company." This strategy has prompted smokestack companies such as Toyota and GM to invest in and partner with technology firms working on self-driving cars, while also opening up their own research hubs in Silicon Valley.
Toyota's partnership with San Francisco-based Uber also will help the two companies spread the cost of designing and building the complex systems, which use computers, cameras, radar and laser sensors to guide the self-driving vehicles.
Uber’s move comes five months after one of its self-driving cars ran over and killed a pedestrian crossing a dark street in Tempe, Arizona. The crash eroded trust in the self-drive programme and prompted Uber to temporarily suspend work on it while conducting a safety evaluation.
However, the enquiry showed that human error was to blame: the sensors on Uber's self-driving car spotted the pedestrian, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, but the vehicle's automatic-braking function had been disabled in favour of a human backup driver. Tempe police said the driver was distracted and had been streaming a television show before the crash.