You never know what it takes to make bitter enemies mend fences but in this case, it’s a mutual pursuit of an emerging technology that has resulted in an unlikely partnership.
Two stakeholders in the race toward an autonomous future for vehicles have decided to embark on a collaboration and they’re not just dipping a toe in. Ride-hailing giant Uber and Alphabet’s Waymo have announced a “long-term strategic partnership” that intends to accelerate the advancement of driverless trucks for freight applications.
Both companies have been developing and testing autonomous vehicle technologies for years, but perhaps most interesting is the snarled past between them. In 2017, Waymo sued Uber, alleging a concerted effort by the company to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property after Uber purchased a startup founded by a key ex-Waymo employee. That man, Anthony Levandowki, was said to have downloaded thousands of confidential Waymo files on his way out the door.
The ensuing fallout resulted in Waymo’s files being returned, a judge shutting down Uber’s development of related sensors, and a criminal sentence for Levandowski, who was ultimately pardoned by former President Donald Trump.
But it appears all of this is water under the bridge for the two companies, who are now pairing up to deploy Waymo's self-driving trucks via Uber Freight – a logistics service that matches drivers with goods in need of transit.
According to a press release issued by Uber, “Carriers that purchase trucks equipped with the Waymo Driver (autonomous technology) in the future will be able to opt into Uber Freight’s marketplace through user-friendly applications letting them seamlessly deploy their autonomous assets on the Uber Freight network.”
Ultimately, this strategy combines Waymo’s strong technology portfolio with Uber’s scale. Lior Ron, head of Uber Freight, says the company is “uniquely positioned to be the preferred network for autonomous trucks, with the scale and the marketplace expertise to deploy autonomous trucks in a way that benefits the entire industry.”
An “exciting leap forward” that’s enough to make enemies friends once again.