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Uber ditches driverless car dream

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·2-min read
A driverless Uber car on the streets of Washington, DC, US. Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images
A driverless Uber car on the streets of Washington, DC, US. Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

Taxi giant Uber (UBER) has moved to sell its autonomous driving research unit to self-driving startup Aurora.

Uber’s advanced Technologies Group sale is a significant shift from part of the business that was once hailed as its path to long-term profitability.

It will still hold a significant interest in Aurora, investing $400m (£299.5m) to give it a 26% stake. Aurora is also backed by Amazon (AMZN).

Aurora was founded by former Tesla (TSLA), Uber and Google executives and will look to develop self-driving tech for the commercial trucking sector, rather than robotaxis.

The sale comes following news that Volkswagen’s CEO has said that he expects autonomous vehicles to be ready for market between 2025 and 2030.

In an interview with the German weekly Wirtschaftswoche, Herbert Diess, the man steering the world’s biggest car maker by sales, said the improving performance of technology in self-driving cars and AI is speeding up the process.

READ MORE: Volkswagen CEO expects autonomous cars 'ready for sale' before 2030

Tests of the viability of bringing self-driving cars to roads are already underway in the UK. In October, trials started with six cars, as part of a government-backed research scheme called "Project Endeavour."

They were described as a "landmark" moment by Oxbotica, an Oxford-based company pioneering self-driving technology in the UK.

Oxford is believed to be the first city to hold trials in the UK ahead of tests in London and other unconfirmed cities.

Germany’s Ministry of Transport has also moved to draft legislation that would allow driverless vehicles to operate on the streets, not just in special test areas, as is currently the case.

In a draft document seen by Reuters news agency in October, the transport ministry wrote that “initially, driverless vehicles should be able to be deployed in defined operating zones,” which would give municipalities completely new opportunities for public transport.

Creating binding legal regulations around autonomous driving, which currently don’t really exist, is the next big step. One aspect would be what technical specifications the autonomous vehicles need to adhere to, as well as rules on where they can operate.

Overall, however, the transport ministry believes that driverless cars will be safer on the roads than those driven by people, noting that "the vast majority of all traffic accidents in Germany are based on human error."

WATCH: Uber selling self-driving operation