On one side of the Atlantic Uber is pumping R&D funds into making flying taxis a reality, but on the other an internal memo states it is shutting down testing of self-driving cars following the death of a pedestrian in March.
Starting in France, the team has announced plans to open a new Advanced Technologies Center in Paris, which will focus on bringing flying taxis into the world. UberAir is the business unit working to build a network of Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, and while it might sound incredibly exciting for adrenaline commuters, it might be a few years until we are soaring. First and foremost, the process begins with building artificial intelligence and airspace management systems to support uberAIR at scale.
Paris will be the centre of development for the moment, capturing a $20 million investment to make the dream a reality, but Uber has said it would like to demonstrate the technology in Dallas, Los Angeles, and a third, international city by 2020. The Advanced Technologies Center Paris (ATCP) will open will opened in the Autumn, with the recruitment drive for engineering, machine learning, and computer vision talent currently underway. Research will focus on capabilities across airspace management, autonomy, real-time communication networks, energy storage, and charging systems.
Aside from being a demonstration of how rapidly the technology industry is evolving, it also supports the idea of France surging up the technology global rankings. The research centre will certainly be something for President Macron to boast about, as will yesterday’s announcement which saw IBM pumping cash into the French technology scene. Macron has made it a priority to drive France forward as a centre of technology excellence, ultimately aiming to stimulate the start-up community across the country, and the presence of two technology heavyweights certainly adds credibility to the mission.
Elsewhere in the Uber world, the story is not as promising. Following the death of a pedestrian in an incident involving one of Uber’s self-driving vehicles, the team suspended operations, however an internal memo seen by ARS Technica this week confirms Arizona operations will be permanently shut down.
“We’ve made the tough call to wind down operations in Phoenix,” Eric Meyhofer, Head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, wrote in the memo. “As you know, there’s been a public call for the suspension of our self-driving program on Arizona’s public roads and we have decided to refocus the bulk of our efforts in our engineering hubs in San Francisco and Pittsburgh. This is the best path forward as we work to get back on the road as soon as possible.”
As Meyhofer states, this is not the end of the self-driving programme, the team are focusing on talks with officials in Pittsburgh about resuming operations, as well as with California Governor Jerry Brown, the California DMV and the cities of San Francisco and Sacramento. Future tests will be scaled back, taking a more considered approach to development, the memo also notes.
Looking at the financial side of the business, Uber has been briefing investors on its Q1 performance which brought in $2.6 billion, according to Reuters, an 8% sequential increase and a 73% boost from the same period in 2017. When sales of its Southeast Asia business to Grab and its Russia business to Yandex, the company lost $312 million, down from $775 million in the previous quarter and $598 million 12 months ago. How attractive spreadsheets will look in a couple of months’ time remain to be seen, the team are battling various governments around the world over working conditions and employee holiday pay for example, but Uber is starting to look like a company which could actually make money.