On April 19, Uber got a major cash injection to help further along its self-driving car development. The firm’s Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) received a total of $1 billion from three companies; Toyota and automotive components company Denso ($667 million) and SoftBank ($333 million).
In a press release, the car manufacturer expressed enthusiasm about working with Uber to develop a scalable autonomous car solution.
The new deal represents Toyota’s third big investment in Uber in the last three years. In 2018, the automaker invested $500 million in the ride-hailing service to integrate self-driving tech into its Sienna minivans. Two years before that, the auto industry giant poured $300 million into the transportation corporation.
A Much-Needed Boost
Though there is never a bad time to receive a billion dollar investment, Uber really needed a high-profile financial boost. In February, the company posted financials for Q4 2018 that revealed its growth had stagnated. Additionally, its longtime rival Lyft was able to beat it to market with its initial public offering.
Uber’s self-driving program has faced intense scrutiny since one of its vehicles was involved in the death of an Arizona woman. In March 2018, a Volvo SUV equipped with the company’s autonomous car software hit Elaine Herzberg as she was crossing a road. However, the National Transportation Safety Board investigated and found that the organization’s application was not at fault.
While the firm evaded criminal charges there, recent reports about the viability of its self-driven cars have not been positive. Late last year, Ars Technica stated that before the fatal accident, an Uber staffer compiled a report detailing the autonomous vehicle program’s many shortcomings. The report had little impact upon initial publication, but the company grounded its autonomous fleet following Herzberg’s death.
For years now, Uber has made it clear its major long-term priority is developing scalable autonomous car tech. Indeed, a viable self-driving solution would allow the corporation to greatly reduce its workforce, optimize the efficiency of its products and finally become profitable. But in the last two years, the transportation concern has lost ground to its competitors.
A recent Business Insider piece noted that the company’s self-driving vehicle program is still very much in the experimental stage. Furthermore, the article stated Uber’s tech is well behind that of competitors like Waymo. It’s also worth noting the field has become considerably more competitive in recent years.
Tesla has spent five years and countless dollars developing its own self-driving program. Unfortunately, despite investing all that time, effort, capital, the electric car maker has also failed to produce a viable autonomous vehicle system.
Apple has also reportedly joined the race to develop artificial intelligence-directed automobiles. After briefly shuttering the project in 2016, analysts now believe Apple will debut a self-driven car sometime between 2023 and 2025.
With all those different hooks in the water, the odds are against Uber being the company that solves the autonomous car conundrum. But since corporations like Toyota value its self-driving business at $7.25 billion, it shouldn’t be written off either.