Toyota is investing $500m in Uber as the two companies strike a new kind of collaboration around autonomous vehicles.
The deal offers a boost to Uber’s self-driving car efforts after March’s fatal collision involving one of its autonomous vehicles.
After suspending its fleet for several months during an investigation into the incident, Uber is now preparing to get its cars back on the road in autonomous testing mode in the “not too distant future”, according to Jeff Miller, its head of business development for strategic initiatives.
Toyota’s investment in preferred stock, which values Uber at $76bn, is “important and symbolic”, Mr Miller said. “It can be taken as a huge vote of confidence in the work that [Uber’s Advanced Technology Group] is doing.”
Toyota and Uber will both be contributing self-driving technology for a fleet of vehicles that will be hailed using the Uber app. That autonomous fleet, which might be owned by Toyota or another third party, is expected to roll out starting in 2021.
The technical collaboration marks a new approach for Uber, which has previously struck partnerships with Volvo and Daimler on autonomous cars. While Daimler plans to deploy its own autonomous cars on Uber’s ride-hailing network, and Volvo sold vehicles to Uber outright, the Toyota deal sees the world’s largest carmaker licensing Uber’s technology for a specially customised version of its Sienna minivans.
Toyota, which is investing in its own autonomous systems, previously invested in Uber in 2016. In January this year, at the Consumer Electronics Show, the Japanese carmaker said it would develop a driverless shuttle for both passengers and deliveries in partnership with Uber, as well as other companies including Amazon, Didi and Pizza Hut.
Discussions between Uber and Toyota about a deeper partnership began before an autonomous Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona.
That incident has raised questions about the future of Uber’s investment in self-driving systems and the safety of its technology. Uber has been forced to suspend its road testing for several months.
However, in an interview with the Financial Times, published this week, Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber chief executive, said he was committed to investing in self-driving technology, while also being open to striking new partnerships.
Doing so is a costly proposition. Competition for talent in the field is fierce, with Uber, Apple, Tesla and Alphabet’s Waymo all fighting with dozens of start-ups and traditional carmakers to hire top engineers.
Toyota is working on its own autonomous technology through its artificial intelligence arm, Toyota Research Institute, which has offices across North America and in Japan. TRI has been developing two kinds of self-driving systems: Guardian, which can be used to assist a human driver, and Chauffeur, which is aiming for full automation. Both systems use the same sensors, meaning vehicles using a combination of Uber technology and Toyota’s Guardian back-up system could potentially be switched to Chauffeur later on.
Mr Miller said that Uber was working on autonomous systems specifically suited to ride-sharing in specific locations, such as a particular city or neighbourhood, while carmakers need to build vehicles to sell to consumers that could drive anywhere, including on motorways.
“I would not say that our focus has changed” following the Arizona crash, he said, which “did not slow anything down” in closing the deal with Toyota.
“We have always had a very narrowly constrained operating domain” for self-driving, he said. “Uber’s business is that of a ride-share network. We are very specifically defining the capability set to be able to perform ride-sharing activities.”
The debate on car seats for taxis and ride-sharing services
Like many parents in New York, Caroline Hwang doesn’t use a car seat when traveling with her son in a taxi.
“It’s a calculated risk, because you’re not going very fast and the chances of you being in a serious high-speed collision are pretty low,” she said.
Research from Virginia Tech University finds New York is among 35 states where cabs are exempt from laws that require young children to travel in a car seat. Except for Georgia, it’s not clear if ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft are also exempt. In the other 15 states, children must have a car seat in all for-hire vehicles.
“There’s a lot of confusion that parents experience when they want to carry their children using rideshare services. The laws across the nation are inconsistent from state to state,” said Justin Owens with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
Owens says in many states that require car seats, it’s not clear if the parent or driver needs to provide them.
“State legislatures really need to work on catching up the laws and regulations.”
In New York City, Uber will have a driver like Rafael Serrano provide a forward-facing car seat for an extra $10. Lyft has a similar program, but also, only in New York City.
“It’s super safe and reliable, so I’d rather have the kids safe than sorry you know,” Serrano said.
Uber and Lyft both tell us that drivers and riders in the rest of the country need to follow all local laws and drivers can turn down riders who do not provide a proper child safety seat.
Voting Today Can Get You A Bunch Of Free Stuff
Today is election day in the US and with comes not only an opportunity to exercise your civic responsibility, right and privilege, but also to get a bunch of free food and services. Although ideally people would vote even if they didn’t get a free side of fries in return, it’s good that people are going to get to the polls somehow.
Uber and Lyft are both offering discounts today, taking their political rivalry to the next level. Uber, you may remember, has been boycotted after showing inadvertent support for Trump.
The company declined to participate in a work stoppage that New York taxi drivers were engaged in to protest Trumps travel ban. Lyft became the service of choice for many people after the #deleteuber movement took hold. Now, both companies are offering deals on rides to the polls.
Uber’s is a discount only for first-time users if they put in a special election day code and Lyft is giving across the board 50% discounts for those going to vote.
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