Toyota teams up with Uber to develop driverless cars

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and TMC executive vice president, Shigeki Tomoyama. Picture courtesy of Toyota Motor Corporation

Toyota Motor Corporation is investing US$500 million ($630 million) in Uber as part of an agreement by the companies to work jointly on autonomous vehicles, the companies said on Monday.

Under terms of the agreement, Uber will integrate self-driving technology into Toyota Sienna minivans for use in Uber’s ride-hailing network. The vehicles later could be owned and operated by third-party fleet managers.

The cars will be fitted with Uber’s own self-driving system as well as a backup autonomous system developed by Toyota Research Institute called Guardian. The combination will result in a platform the companies call Autono-MaaS, which stands for “autonomous-mobility as a service.”

“Uber’s automated driving system and Toyota’s Guardian system will independently monitor the vehicle environment and real-time situation, enhancing overall vehicle safety for both the automated driver and the vehicle,” said Dr. Gill Pratt, Toyota Research Institute CEO and TMC Fellow.

Toyota will also utilise its Mobility Services Platform (MSPF), its core information infrastructure for connected vehicles. Pilot-scale deployments will begin on the Uber ride-sharing network in 2021.

For the Japanese automaker, the “agreement and investment marks an important milestone in our transformation to a mobility company as we help provide a path for safe and secure expansion of mobility services like ride-sharing that includes Toyota vehicles and technologies”, its executive vice-president Shigeki Tomoyama said in a statement.

The investment values Uber at $US72 billion ($98 billion), matching the valuation Uber received in a deal with Alphabet Inc self-driving unit Waymo this year.

“The deal is the first of its kind for Uber, and signals our commitment to bringing world-class technologies to the Uber network,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO.

“Our goal is to deploy the world’s safest self-driving cars on the Uber network, and this agreement is another significant step towards making that a reality. Uber’s advanced technology and Toyota’s commitment to safety and its renowned manufacturing prowess make this partnership a natural fit. I look forward to seeing what our teams accomplish together.”

Uber has been seeking ways to lower development costs and losses in its autonomous-vehicle unit following a fatal crash involving one of its cars earlier this year in Arizona. In recent months, Uber has closed its Arizona autonomous-vehicle operations and laid off about 400 test drivers, some of whom it will rehire after undergoing new training. Uber also has taken its self-driving vehicles off the roads in the San Francisco Bay Area, Pittsburgh and Toronto while investigators look into the circumstances of the Arizona crash.