Waymo, a pioneer in self-driving cars, has announced a partnership with Uber in the Phoenix area. This collaboration will involve the use of robotic cars for transporting passengers and delivering food, marking a significant development after a bitter dispute between the two companies over technology.
For Waymo, this partnership provides an opportunity to expand its robotaxi service, which has been operating in Phoenix since late 2020. The aim is to attract passengers who currently rely on Uber drivers, who receive a portion of the fares. Currently, Phoenix is the only major metropolitan area where a robotaxi service operates extensively throughout the city. However, Waymo and General Motors subsidiary Cruise are competing to provide similar autonomous services in San Francisco.
The collaboration between Waymo and Uber in Phoenix comes five years after the companies engaged in a costly legal battle. The dispute revolved around allegations that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick conspired with former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski to steal Waymo’s self-driving car technology. Ultimately, Uber agreed to a settlement of $245 million to resolve the lawsuit. Levandowski later pled guilty to criminal charges related to the civil lawsuit but was pardoned by President Donald Trump.
Although Uber sold the self-driving car division that sparked the theft allegations and the fatal accident involving a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, in March 2018, the company remains interested in driverless technology to enhance profitability by reducing the reliance on human drivers. The partnership with Waymo will involve dispatching Waymo’s driverless vehicles to pick up passengers and make food deliveries through the Uber app, starting later this year.
The specifics of the agreement, such as the number of Waymo’s robotaxis to be used for Uber services, have not been disclosed. The integration of Waymo’s robotaxis is expected to bolster Uber’s recent momentum, as the easing of the pandemic has resulted in increased ride-hailing demand. Additionally, Uber’s food delivery service has retained many customers who began using it during home lockdowns.
This collaboration also benefits Waymo by exposing its autonomous vehicles to a wider segment of the population in the Phoenix area. Waymo recently expanded its robotaxi service coverage in the region and is preparing to introduce a similar paid service in San Francisco. Both Waymo and Cruise are awaiting approval from California regulators to offer 24/7 driverless rides in San Francisco, with a hearing scheduled for June 29.