Agreeing a multiyear deal, Waymo and Uber will work together in Phoenix and San Francisco to deliver food and people.
Alphabet subsidiary Waymo has been operating in Phoenix for several years for testing and recently offering public rides. Not all of its vehicles will be made available to Uber riders and Uber food delivery, but a certain proportion will give autonomous access to the 180sq miles in Phoenix, plus the new coverage area in San Francisco. Though the companies did not mention how many vehicles might be available, they did state that the number will both fluctuate and be bookable directly through the Uber app.
The two companies have emphasised the financial and logistics synergies of the deal, though they haven’t disclosed the financial details. Further there are legal complications that could have played a role. Anthony Levandowski, who helped start the Google self-driving car project that became Waymo left Google in 2016, starting an autonomous trucking company called Otto in 2017 that was subsequently acquired by Uber. Levandowski was accused by Google of stealing company IP, pleaded guilty and then pardoned by then sitting President Trump.
Regardless of the legal intrigue behind the deal the companies are teaming up. This might be in light of the recent layoffs both companies have carried out due to economic constraints. Since Uber backed away from directly working on autonomy in 2020, after sinking $1billion into self-driving, it seems that the two companies are not directly competitive, and this deal shows that they might find a way forward together.
This deal is an interesting move. By working with Uber and allowing bookable rides and food deliveries directly in Uber’s apps, Waymo is partially giving up its direct contact with customers. It isn’t clear whether Waymo sees this as a short-term solution for bringing cash into what continues to be cash bleeding operation, or whether they have a long-term strategy to become a supplier rather than a service operator. If that is the case it is certainly a radical reimagining of the companies mission, which just a short five years ago was clearly set on providing direct robotaxi services in competition to Uber, other ride-hailing companies, and traditional taxis.
Regardless of the corporate background and the strategic interests at play, this deal is likely a boon for customers, and hopefully for society. We’ve been told for many years that the advent of autonomous vehicles will lead to reduced emissions, greater accessibility, a lack of dependence on private vehicles, and increased road safety. That might be true, and if a collaboration between Waymo and Uber brings it about, more power to them.
The Written by Joshua Bronson,
RISE Mobility & System