On Thursday, news broke that Toyota, Denso, and the SoftBank Vision Fund are investing heavily in Uber’s autonomous driving operation. Together, the three companies will put $1 billion into Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group: $667 million from Toyota and Denso, with an additional $333 million coming from SoftBank.
“Leveraging the strengths of Uber ATG’s autonomous vehicle technology and service network and the Toyota Group’s vehicle control system technology, mass-production capability, and advanced safety support systems, such as Toyota Guardian™, will enable us to commercialize safer, lower cost automated ridesharing vehicles and services,” said Shigeki Tomoyama, Toyota executive vice president and president of Toyota’s in-house Connected Company, in a statement sent to Ars.
It’s actually not the first time Toyota has opened its wallet for Uber. In August 2018, the Japanese OEM signed a $500 million deal to integrate Uber’s autonomous tech into Toyota Sienna minivans, which will operate through Uber’s ride-hailing network at some future date. That followed an earlier investment of $300 million in 2016.
The involvement of Denso, a tier 1 supplier, suggests there’s a greater plan in store than a small pilot deployment of self-driving Siennas. After all, it’s one thing to build an R&D fleet that receives 24/7 support, it’s quite another to develop the technology to the point where it’s robust enough to send it off to live with the general public. “Among the biggest challenges facing automated driving, most lie in how to implement both the hardware and the software at scale,” said Hiroyuki Wakabayashi, executive vice president at Denso.
This will all no doubt be welcome news at Uber ATG, which has faced heavy criticism—if not criminal prosecution—for the death of Elaine Herzberg, who was killed in March 2018 by an autonomous Uber R&D vehicle in Tempe, Arizona.