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Uber is shutting down its self-driving truck program

Courtesy of Uber

The race to create self-driving trucks just got a little less crowded.

That's because Uber announced Monday that the ride-hailing giant is shuttering its self-driving truck program, a division that made history in 2016 by completing the world's first autonomous truck delivery - 50,000 cans of Budweiser.

That division - a part of Uber's Advance Technology Group - had other successes as well, including delivering freight on highways in Arizona using automated Volvo big rigs.

The robot-driven Volvo trucks were rolled out in November and included a human backup driver, the company said. The company did not have a formal partnership with Volvo but, instead, retrofitted Volvo trucks with their technology.

Uber said ending their self-driving truck program will allow the company to focus their energy on their self-driving car program, which the company is moving to relaunch on public roads. Uber's self-driving car program was suspended in March after a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, was struck and killed by one of Uber's driverless vehicles, leading to a National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

"We recently took the important step of returning to public roads in Pittsburgh, and as we look to continue that momentum, we believe having our entire team's energy and expertise focused on this effort is the best path forward," Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, said in a statement.

Uber Freight - a smartphone app that links truck drivers to freight - will continue, the company said, noting that it remains one of Uber's most promising businesses, one that has tripled in size in little more than a year. The company believes it does not need to immediately develop self-driving trucks to remain a competitive force in the world of freight logistics.

The company plans to shift employees currently focused on self-driving trucks to other parts of their self-driving technology programs.

Uber's self-driving truck program faced competition from a number of companies, including Tesla and Waymo - formerly known as Google's self-driving car project - which began hauling cargo in Atlanta in March. Waymo said their technology would power Peterbilt Class 8 trucks to carry cargo bound for Google's data centers.

The company's engineers have been testing self-driving trucks in California and Arizona, the same state where a fleet of 600 autonomous Waymo taxis has been on the roads without a human driver since November, the company said in a blog post.

"Our software is learning to drive big rigs in much the same way a human driver would after years of driving passenger cars," Waymo said in the post. "The principles are the same, but things like braking, turning, and blind spots are different with a fully-loaded truck and trailer."

A Florida start-up called Starsky Robotics intends to make driverless deliveries in the company's trucks by the end of 2018, according to Wired.

Another start-up called Embark drove an automated truck across the country without a driver, completing a 2,400-mile journey from California to Florida.

This article was written by Peter Holley, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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