Uber will start offering Americans driverless rides later this year

Uber will offer Waymo driverless rides, starting in Phoenix, Arizona (Laura Dale/PA Archive)
Uber will offer Waymo driverless rides, starting in Phoenix, Arizona (Laura Dale/PA Archive)

Waymo has put aside its differences with Uber, and will offer its driverless cars on the ride-sharing app later this year, the company has announced.

The multi-year deal will combine “Waymo’s world-leading autonomous driving technology with the massive scale of Uber’s ridesharing and delivery networks,” the company said. It will cover both rides via Uber, and food deliveries via Uber Eats.

Of course, autonomous vehicles aren’t allowed everywhere and, for the purposes of this, the partnership will initially be limited to an area of just over 180 square miles in Phoenix, Arizona.

The post says it’s “starting in” the region, so it seems likely that parts of San Francisco and Los Angeles County will follow, as Alphabet-owned Waymo also operates there.

“Fully autonomous driving is quickly becoming part of everyday life, and we’re excited to bring Waymo’s incredible technology to the Uber platform,” said Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

Waymo’s co-CEO, Tekedra Mawakana, was equally effusive. “Uber has long been a leader in human-operated ridesharing, and the pairing of our pioneering technology and all-electric fleet with their customer network provides Waymo with an opportunity to reach even more people.”

Such mutual backslapping in blog posts may be par for the course, but it’s still interesting given that the two companies were locked in a damaging legal battle just five years ago.

Back in 2017, Uber hired a former Waymo engineer as chief of its self-driving division, and it was alleged that the company obtained confidential documents as a result. The case was settled in 2018, with Uber paying Waymo $245 million in stock.

Now it appears the companies are on good terms again thanks to a shared ambition to advance driverless cars across America.

On this side of the Atlantic, the progress of autonomous vehicles is slower, though recently a three-year trial covering 1,600 miles around Woolwich successfully completed without crashes.

The area was picked due to the density of pedestrian crossings, and Londoners’ less predictable approach to road safety. “In Japan, everybody follows the rules,” ServCity’s Robert Bateman told the BBC at the time. “Not so in the UK.

"Quite frankly, if you can get it right here you can then deliver an autonomous vehicle anywhere in the world."