Ride-hailing startup Uber Technologies said it has acquired Otto, “a 90-plus person technology startup” whose mission is to rethink transportation, starting with self-driving trucks, in a deal reportedly valued at close to $700 million. Uber also said it made a partnership deal with Swedish carmaker Volvo, “a leader when it comes to safety.”

Partnerships are crucial to Uber’s self-driving strategy because “Uber has no experience making cars,” said the company’s CEO and co-founder, Travis Kalanick. “To do it well is incredibly hard, as I realized on my first visit to a car manufacturing plant several years ago. By combining Uber’s self-driving technology with Volvo’s state-of-the art vehicles and safety technology, we’ll get to the future faster than going it alone.”

Later this month, Uber will allow riders in downtown Pittsburgh, home to Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved, according to Bloomberg.

Earlier in August, China’s ride-sharing leader Didi Chuxing agreed to acquire UberChina in a $35 billion, marking a shift in Uber’s global growth strategy.

In June, Uber raised $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) in the largest funding it ever raised from a single investor, as part of a $5 billion funding round that valued the company at $68 billion, turning Uber into the world’s most highly valued startup.

Uber’s driver-less vehicle initiative comes a few days after Ford’s acquisition of Israeli computer vision and machine learning startup SAIPS, as part of a plan to have a high-volume, fully autonomous SAE level 4-capable vehicle in commercial operation in 2021, in a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service.

Ford, together with Chinese internet giant Baidu, also led a $150 million founding round in Velodyne, a Silicon Valley-based leader in light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors.

Two weeks ago, Israeli autonomous vehicle sensor startup Innoviz said it raised $9 million in a Series A funding round, from Zohar Zisapel, Vertex Venture Capital, Magma Venture Partners, Amiti Ventures and Delek Investments.

Last month, Silicon Valley autonomous driving startup Zoox is said to have raised $200 in venture funding at a $1 billion valuation, led by Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) and Lux Capital.

In March, General Motors said it was acquiring San Francisco-based autonomous vehicle technology startup Cruise Automation reportedly for over $1 billion.

In February, Mobileye NV, a global leader in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving technologies, said it made a deal with Nissan to integrate Mobileye’s new road experience management (REM) technology into Nissan’s fleets. Nissan is the third large automaker to have partnered with Mobileye to integrate its new REM technology in addition to General Motors and Volkswagen.

“Anthony Levandowski, Otto’s co-founder, will now lead our combined self-driving efforts reporting directly to me—across personal transportation, delivery and trucking—in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Pittsburgh,” Kalanick said.

“If that sounds like a big deal—well, it is,” he added. “More and more the world of atoms is interacting with bits. In order to provide digital services in the physical world, we must build sophisticated logistics, artificial intelligence and robotics systems that serve and elevate humanity.”

“Together with Uber, we will create the future of commercial transportation: first, self-driving trucks that provide drivers unprecedented levels of safety; and second, a platform that matches truck drivers with the right load wherever they are,” said Otto’s co-founder and CEO Anthony Lewandowski.

“By joining forces with Uber we can fast forward to the future. Together, Otto and Uber can build the backbone of the rapidly-approaching self-driving freight system. We can help make transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone, whether you’re talking people or packages, ” added Levandowski, who’s said to be one of the world’s leading autonomous vehicle engineers. His first invention, a self-driving motorcycle called Ghostrider, is now at the Smithsonian museum.

“Founded by two senior engineers in Google’s self-driving car and mapping divisions, Otto is developing kits that can be used to transform existing big rigs into autonomous trucks,’ says Trucks.com.

By combining these two technologies, Uber and Otto can create a freight network that is constantly learning and improving. Each truck that joins the network can provide valuable information that makes all other trucks safer and more efficient. In turn, drivers get paid more and shippers get a more reliable service. Self-driving trucks together with a marketplace create a virtuous cycle where everyone benefits.

“Together, we now have one of the strongest autonomous engineering groups in the world; self-driving trucks and cars that are already on the road thanks to Otto and Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh; the practical experience that comes from running ridesharing and delivery services in hundreds of cities; with the data and intelligence that comes from doing 1.2 billion miles on the road every month,” Kalanick commented.



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