After spending years and billions of investor dollars trying to get its autonomous robotaxi fleet off the ground, Uber has cut its losses and dumped the problem child division on a Silicon Valley startup called Aurora. As part of the deal, Uber will invest an additional $400 million in Aurora, paying the new company to distance itself fiscally and legally from the disaster that Uber’s autonomous project has become.
Uber has always been an unprofitable taxi service and has said that the path toward profitability is replacing its expensive human drivers with self-driving robot cars. That’s how the company managed to keep getting investors to funnel billions into the company — the promise that it would someday make a profit by kicking hard-working Americans out of their gig economy jobs. Without this autonomous hardware and software, Uber has admitted that it has no idea how the company will ever turn a profit.
Aurora has already announced that it will discontinue working on autonomous taxi service technology, which Uber has known for quite some time was still a very very long way off. Instead, it will focus on trying to wrench long haul truckers from one of the last middle-class income jobs you can obtain without mandatory post-secondary education. Trucking, it supposes, is much easier to automate as America’s highway infrastructure is unidirectional and comes part and parcel with fewer on-the-road surprises.
I have always been skeptical of autonomous driving, and this revelation throws another wrench into the works. A company that has banked its entire future on autonomous tech hasn’t been able to figure it out with a several billion dollar budget, even after very publicly killing a pedestrian in Arizona, stealing intellectual property, and getting sued by Google. None of this is very reassuring.
Is an unprofitable taxi company really worth almost $100 billion?