DETROIT – Toyota will sink a half-billion dollars into Uber and work jointly with the ride-hailing giant to develop self-driving vehicles, a person briefed on the matter said Monday.
The deal is a sign that Uber no longer wants to go it alone in creating an autonomous driving system since one of its test vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian on a darkened street in Tempe, Arizona, earlier this year.
The deal also will help both the Japanese automaker and Uber spread out the cost of designing and building the complex systems, which use computers, cameras, radar and laser sensors to guide the self-driving vehicles. And it will help them compete against rivals General Motors and Google’s Waymo, which experts say are leading the autonomous-vehicle race.
Self-driving vehicles are important to Uber to reduce the cost of carrying passengers. If it fails, rivals with self-driving cars could offer rides at a lower cost.
Further details of the deal were not available, and the person briefed on the matter declined to be identified because an official release hasn’t been issued. The deal was reported earlier Monday by the Wall Street Journal.
Uber has been doing a safety evaluation of its autonomous vehicle program ever since the March 18 crash that killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she walked a bicycle across the Arizona street.
Navigant Research analyst Sam Abuelsamid suspects that Toyota, which has taken a more cautious approach to autonomous-vehicle development, will take control of the program from Uber. Toyota would benefit from Uber’s technology, because the ride-hailing company was working quickly on the system and may have been ahead of Toyota, Abuelsamid said.
Uber, he said, almost had to take on a partner after the crash. “It’s going to be tough for them to build consumer trust in whatever it is they’re developing. I think that people will have a lot more trust in Toyota to do this the right way, to take due care and make sure everything is properly tested and evaluated,” Abuelsamid said.
In the Arizona crash, authorities determined that the vehicle’s sensors spotted the woman but its automatic-braking function had been disabled in favor of a human backup driver. Tempe police said the driver was distracted and streaming a television show before the crash.
Uber has since pulled its self-driving cars out of Arizona, costing 300 jobs, and suspended testing in other cities. In July, Uber took a step toward relaunching autonomous vehicle testing on Pittsburgh streets. The company said it put a handful of vehicles back on the road with some safety modifications to the cars and driver training. But for now, the cars won’t be free of human control or respond to ride-hailing calls.
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