The two former rivals are ready to let bygones be bygones — in the interest of stirring up more business by getting customers into autonomous vehicles.
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Waymo’s robotaxis will be available to hail for rides and food delivery on Uber’s app in Phoenix later this year, the result of a new partnership that the two former rivals announced today.
A “set number” of Waymo vehicles will be available to Uber riders and Uber Eats delivery customers in Phoenix, where the Alphabet company recently doubled its service area to 180 square miles. The partnership was described as “multi-year,” with the goal of bringing together “Waymo’s world-leading autonomous driving technology with the massive scale of Uber’s ridesharing and delivery networks.”
Katherine Barna, a spokesperson for Waymo, declined to disclose the number of vehicles that would be hail-able through Uber’s app, though she did share that the vehicles will not be exclusive to Uber. For example, Phoenix residents can also summon a Waymo vehicle through the company’s Waymo One app.
Robotaxi services have struggled in the years since the pandemic, with companies laying off workers and some firms shutting down completely. The business of operating a robotaxi service is difficult thanks to restrictions on where the vehicles can travel. Human-driven services like Uber and Lyft have no such limitations. And customers can be fickle, quick to switch to another service that promises shorter wait times and fewer limits on where they can travel.
It wasn’t long ago that Waymo and Uber were locked in a grueling standoff over the future of autonomous vehicles. In February 2017, the Alphabet-owned company sued Uber and its subsidiary, self-driving truck startup Otto, over allegations of trade secret theft and patent infringement.
The case went to trial almost a year later but ended quickly when the two sides reached a surprise settlement agreement after just a week of deliberations. Uber later admitted that it misappropriated some of Waymo’s tech and vowed to license it for future use. Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer and the founder of Otto, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing Waymo’s trade secrets — but was later pardoned by former President Donald Trump.
There is no mention of past indiscretions in the announcement. Uber and Waymo have a preexisting partnership involving autonomous long-haul trucking. That venture, which is still ongoing, allows fleet owners to deploy trucks equipped with Waymo’s autonomous “driver” for on-demand delivery routes offered by Uber Freight, the company’s trucking division.
Waymo also had a partnership with Lyft to deploy its robotaxi’s on the smaller ridehail company’s app — but that ended in 2020 during the pandemic. “Lyft has been a great partner over the years, and we intend to keep dialogue open as we continue to scale,” Barna said in an email.
And Waymo isn’t the only robotaxi company to appear in Uber’s app. Motional, a joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv, has its vehicles available to hail on Uber’s app in Las Vegas.
Infamously, Uber was developing its own fleet of autonomous vehicles with the intention to eventually replace all of its human drivers — but the program was shut down after a woman was killed by one of the company’s vehicles in 2017. That incident occurred in Tempe, Arizona, right outside Phoenix.