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Uber Acquires Otto: Self-Driving Car Technology Trickling Down Into Long-Haul Trucking

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author photo by Russ Heaps October 2016

Uber is expanding its ride-hailing model to include long-haul trucking with its recent acquisition of the San Francisco-based self-driving-truck start-up Otto. Think of the partnership as self-driving car meets on-demand load hauling.

Although most of us periodically using Uber don't usually connect this ride-hailing service with self-driving vehicles, the company has been very aggressive in forming partnerships with businesses -- even carmakers like Volvo -- in pursuit of driverless ride-hailing. Teaming with a software company already working on autonomous trucks to help it move into the long-haul trucking arena seems a logical next step for Uber.

What Is Otto?

Founded in January of 2016 by a squad of former Google brainiacs, Otto's mission is to bring high-tech solutions to the problems plaguing the long-haul trucking industry, with the ultimate goal being autonomous semis. Among the problems Otto is targeting is the high number of accidents involving big trucks. One of the main motivators behind the development of self-driving technology is the widely held belief that autonomous vehicles will significantly reduce -- or perhaps even put an end to -- driving-related fatalities.

Otto has several of its own trucks and drivers on the road actively acquiring and recording data. The company is also soliciting independent drivers to form partnerships to do more of the same. According to TechCrunch.com, Otto's mission hasn't been developing technology to replace drivers but providing solutions to relieve them of some duties while on the highway. It's all about safety and driver assistance.

Unlike many software developers working with automakers in the hunt for technology to build into their vehicles, Otto has concentrated on technology packages that can be installed in trucks currently on the road.

How Might Uber Benefit?

Uber has made it no secret that it sees the self-driving car as an important element for future growth. Clearly, Uber is the largest ride-hailing company. In Otto, Uber probably sees not only an opportunity to further its autonomous-vehicle strategy but also a platform to bring its ride-hailing technology, reputation and experience to long-haul trucking.

Long-haul trucking basically operates by brokers pairing empty trucks with loads that need to be hauled. Uber wants to eliminate the broker by allowing businesses with loads they need to move to summon trucks on their own. It would operate pretty much in the same way that the Uber app on our phones summons drivers and provides cost information when we need a ride somewhere. It would probably also include the ability to track the load.

What Are the Hurdles?

The long-haul trucking industry may be a tough nut to crack, even for Uber. There are lots of moving parts in matching loads with available trucks -- it's a complex business. There's also a large amount of trust between brokers and clients with loads to haul, as well as between brokers and the drivers they match with the clients. Not all shippers may be willing to take the leap of faith that the Uber model will require.

What it means to you: Bringing more safety technologies to big trucks can only reduce accidents, which is good for all of us. And if Uber can bring the same degree of savings for manufacturers shipping their products that it delivers for people trying to get from one place to another, it should translate into lower prices for just about everything we buy.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Uber Acquires Otto: Self-Driving Car Technology Trickling Down Into Long-Haul Trucking - Autotrader