After Years of Legal Tension, Waymo & Google Team Up to Advance Autonomous Trucking

Former legal adversaries and fierce competitors in the field of autonomous vehicles, Waymo and Uber, are working together to accelerate the adoption of driverless trucks. Uber Freight, the truck brokerage operated by the ride-hailing giant, is being integrated by Waymo into the technology that drives its self-driving big rigs.

See Uber’s blog release here

According to the companies, this “long-term strategic agreement” will allow fleet owners to deploy trucks outfitted with Waymo’s autonomous “driver” for Uber Freight’s on-demand delivery routes more swiftly.

The announcement marks a coming together of two significant side initiatives of the companies. Waymo puts its autonomous projects into two groups: Waymo One, a ride-hailing app for consumers, and Waymo Via, a platform for local and truck-based deliveries of commodities. In a similar fashion to how the company’s ride-hailing app connects drivers with passengers, Uber Freight, which debuted in 2017, links shippers and truck drivers.

Waymo described the collaboration as a “deep integration” of the technologies from both companies, including a “product roadmap” they built together that outlines how autonomous trucks will be introduced to Uber’s network once they are ready for commercial use. To gain a better understanding of how driverless trucks will take delivery orders until then, Waymo claims it will employ Uber Freight with its own test fleet.

But the collaboration goes beyond only beta testing one another’s technological innovations. In a capacity pledge aimed to emphasize the gravity of this relationship, Waymo announced it will reserve “billions of miles of its goods-only capacity for the Uber Freight network.”

Waymo and Uber were engaged in a tense debate over the direction of autonomous vehicles. The Alphabet-owned business filed a lawsuit against Uber and its affiliate, self-driving truck startup Otto, in February 2017 on grounds of alleged trade secret theft and patent infringement. Uber refused Waymo’s request for $1.4 billion and a public apology, calling it an impossibility.

Nearly a year later, the matter went to trial, but it was over fast after the two parties unexpectedly negotiated a deal. Uber later acknowledged stealing some of Waymo’s technology and committed to license it going forward. US Google engineer and founder of Otto Anthony Levandowski received an 18-month prison term for stealing trade secrets from Waymo, but former President Donald Trump eventually commuted the sentence.

The announcement makes no reference to prior transgressions. As part of a wider investment in autonomous technology, Uber had been working on its own self-driving truck, but eventually offloaded it to Aurora, a company created by the former director of Waymo when it was still just Google’s self-driving vehicle project. Uber had to abandon its AV project because to ballooning expenses and the incident in Arizona where a self-driving Uber car hit and killed a pedestrian.

Waymo has recently entered into a flurry of agreements in an effort to expand its fledgling trucking business. The Google offshoot has stated that it does not want to own or manage its own fleet of trucks and would instead collaborate with carriers, brokers, and truck manufacturers to incorporate its technology into the freight transportation industry.

Despite the fact that neither Uber Freight nor its parent company owns a fleet, the two companies believe that their integration will “unlock much-needed capacity for shippers, increase fuel efficiency, give carriers the chance to scale their businesses, and ultimately streamline global supply chains to everyone’s benefit.”

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