“The Future Of Uber Depends On Whether The Company Solve The Problem With Autonomous Machines”

As an internal issue hampering the development of unmanned technology Uber. The investigation of the author with Joanna, Bhian.

“The future of Uber taxi giant, whose assessment exceeds $70 billion — depends on how this weeks over. Its not even in the interviews conducted by the head of Uber, Travis Kalanick, for the position of chief operating officer established in response to criticism of the companys management,” writes the author of Recode Joanna Bhian. March 27, Kalanick also gathered for an important meeting in Pittsburgh and San Francisco managers, Advanced Technology Group — unit for the development of unmanned vehicles. “Although this is not the first meeting of the heads of such level, sources report that its goal — defining the priorities of development and technological progress unit”.

The meeting was attended by old and new engineers who moved from the school of computer science Carnegie Mellon or joined the company in August 2016, after the purchase of a startup in the field of unmanned cargo transport Otto — David Stager, don Burnett, Lior Ron, as well as approximately 50 other employees. “Ubers future depends largely on whether the company solve the problem of automation machines. Due to this, the company will be able to stay relevant as more and more brands will create its own unmanned vehicle,” he continues Bhian.

Thanks to Autonomous vehicles, Uber will be able to take 100% of the proceeds themselves, and the cab will work almost around the clock. However, according to Recode, citing current and former employees of the company, Uber is having issues with drone project. “Many believe that the development is in a technological stagnation, and suffers from strained relations in the team, especially among Executive leadership”.

Difficulties include the outflow of talented personnel. From November 2016, left the company “at least 20 engineers,” continues the author of the book. “One source claims that between those who had joined Otto, and those who joined ATG has a “mini civil war”. Some want to work in a startup and to be independent, the other — to transform the company into a leader in transportation in the future”.

According to some sources, many of these problems arose when Otto bought Uber and Kalanick has appointed the head of the company, Anthony Lewandowski, responsible for all activities in respect of unmanned vehicles. Lewandowski is in the center of a serious judicial process between Uber and his former employer — Alphabet.

“Parent company Google argues that Lewandowski severance stole key intellectual property to create Otto. The lawsuit States that Lewandowski had long talks with Uber before you leave Alphabet. If the judge against Uber, it can greatly prevent the development of unmanned vehicles,” writes the author of Recode.

“It is unlikely that all these problems will be solved within a week, moreover, attention Kalanick is aimed at the creation of unmanned vehicles, and to eliminate the consequences of the recent public scandals that have embroiled the company.”. According to sources, only for the first two days of the meeting, Kalanick repeatedly met with Anthony Lewandowski, representatives of the HR Department and Eric Magiera — leading engineer, who joined the Pittsburgh team Uber for more than two years ago. “To come up with a solution that satisfies all stakeholders will not be easy, especially given the circumstances associated with the acquisition of Otto” — the author writes Recode.

In February 2016, around the same time as there was Otto, Uber Lewandowski was hired as a consultant in the direction of unmanned vehicles. “Thats unusual, given that Lewandowski has just launched his own company developing drones”.

Initially, ATG planned to bring their cars on public roads by August 2016. However, a few months before that Kalanick decided that the team, consisting mainly of the robot developers and engineers at Carnegie Mellon will not be fit in time because the technology was not ready, says Bhean. “So he went to Lewandowski, with whom he had been acquainted since 2012”.

On the advice Lewandowski deadline was moved to September 2016. And while ATG has increased efforts to develop autopilots, so did Lewandowski and his co-founders — Ron Burnett and Claire Delaunay, working on unmanned trucks.

They came out of the “secrecy” in may, approximately four months after Lewandowski founded the company and began to advise Uber. After that Autonomous trucks Otto began to be tested on public roads. “It is unclear why someone who opens his own company on the creation of unmanned vehicles, advise your competitor. Maybe its in long-term relationships between Lewandowski and Kalanick”.

According to one report, Kalanick and Lewandowski first met at a TED conference in 2012. “There, Kalanick apparently first offered Lewandowski to use some of the technology Google. But to discuss the merger and Otto Uber they started until the spring of 2016,” writes the author of Recode.

However, if the statements in the lawsuit of Google against the Uber loyal, talks about the acquisition of the company could begin in the summer of 2015, i.e. six months before Lewandowski decided to leave Alphabet. According to the testimony of the engineer of the company Waymo Pierre-Yves Drosa, in the summer of 2015 Lewandowski spoke with Brian McClendon, one of the project managers-driving cars Uber. “He told me that it would be nice to create a new startup based on autopilot, and that Uber would be interested in buying the team responsible for the Lidar, which was developed in Google”.

In addition, the lawsuit States that Waymo there is information about the fact that Lewandowski was present at the meetings with the senior leaders in the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco January 14, 2016. “This lawsuit was filed only eight months after the acquisition of Otto, exacerbating discontent engineers Uber ATG”, — writes Bhian.

In the complaint Waymo claims that Lewandowski stole the design of their lidar — laser radar, which can be used to measure distances to objects, so cars can avoid collisions. To prove to the employees that the claims, as the representative of Uber, “baseless,” Kalanick and Lewandowski held in ATG meeting the next day after filing a lawsuit.

“The team that creates the lasers, disassembled to show how it works. However, it is not clear how employees who did not work in Google know if this looks like a Google design,” says the author of Recode. No one knows how the company will develop further in the light of allegations of sexual harassment and the theft of trade secrets. Despite the fact that the trial is only one question among a number of claims involving Autonomous vehicles, it could destroy the company.

Within a few months after the company bought the startup Lewandowki, Uber has left a group of leading engineers, many of whom were graduates of the school Carnegie Mellon. Among them was Peter Rander, who launched his own start-up, associated with Autonomous vehicles — Argo.ai, Brett Browning, who took in a startup of Rander the position of Vice President at the robotics and drew Bagnell chief developer computer vision Uber — went to a startup of a former technical Director of Google Chris Urmson Aurora.

“A few months later, Raffi Krikorian — former Vice President of engineering Twitter, who came to Uber in 2015 to lead the unit to develop driverless cars — also left the company,” writes the author of Recode. In addition, Uber has left at least 15 people. Someone joined Rander, and Browning in Argo.ai, and someone to Urmson and Bagnulo, according to Recode, citing sources inside Uber.

“Layoffs continue. 3 Mar security expert Uber Charlie Miller, famous for the remote hacking of Jeep announced the move in an unmanned project Didi Chuxing. In addition, the company left the technical Manager pam Cardona” — the author writes Recode.

High turnover is not surprising for a startup, but in this case it is a warning. More importantly, retention of talent is critical to Uber, as the company tries to fulfill the difficult task of becoming a leader in the ever-competitive market of unmanned vehicles. There are quite a lot of engineers who have any experience in this area, and now the demand for them skyrocketed, continues Bhean.

“Traditional automakers, major tech giants and small but well-funded startups attract all the talent they can receive through acquisitions and mergers”. One of the reasons for the mass dismissal of Uber was that the main leaders of the project development of unmanned vehicles though, and announced the forthcoming acquisition of Otto, but did not say that Lewandowski will be their head — it was done just a few days before his appointment, according to the author of Recode.

“There have been significant changes in the management structure of ATG. A number of leaders Otto came to the top step of the hierarchy and the founders of ATG received a demotion”. Many had gone, engineers were worried that the leadership of the Uber chose to openly demonstrate progress in the development of unmanned vehicles, instead of improving technology in the closed mode until then, until it is completely ready to enter the market.

According to Recode sources, the initiative is open demonstrations came from Lewandowski. The Uber representative told the publication that tests on real roads are crucial for the success of the technology, and they were conducted in accordance with the companys plans.

“However, other sources report that all demonstration, including the launching of an unmanned vehicle in San Francisco and beer delivery with unmanned truck in Colorado, was prepared in a hurry. Both cases have become a problem for the Department,” writes Bhian. After the tests are run, semi-Autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh that was already part of the original plan, Lewandowski decided to hold another demonstration in a month.

For this purpose he entered into an agreement with the brewing company Anheuser-Busch to Otto unmanned truck was taken 45 thousand liters of beer. “It happened just eight months after the founding of the Otto, so it was a surprise that the company was able to demonstrate its technology so early,” — says the author of Recode.

According to a representative of Uber, team Otto worked closely with officials of Colorado and tested the trucks until they did not fully comply with the safety standards. However, a source inside the company, Recode reports that the trip was organized with the help of “incomplete systems” that were connected “in a hurry”. According to the author of Recode, startups can demonstrate to investors the “raw” technology, but this does not apply to Autonomous vehicles, where a system failure may lead to accidents and death.

“Despite the fact that the unmanned truck, Otto was driving on a public highway near other peoples computers break every few hours. And as I said one of the employees of the company, the demonstration was held only by luck”, — writes Bhian.

Sources of Recode reported that after the demonstration, Otto ATG, some employees began to worry, is it ethical to withdraw unsafe system on public roads. Soon after the October demonstration, Rander, and Browning Bagnall left the company. Their departure took place in a critical period for the company. Just two weeks after Uber began a second advertising test its Autonomous cars — this time in San Francisco, says Recode.

“Even for ordinary people it was clear that the output of Autonomous Volvo, Uber has become the logistics disaster”. 14 December, on the first day of the test, the witness was removed, one of the cars Uber ran a red light. And though Uber representatives said that it happened because of human error, the journalists of the New York Times examined the system logs and found that the system does not recognize traffic signals.

“It was a semi-automatic vehicle — it is not anticipated that it will independently evaluate the traffic situation. In the event of an emergency, drivers should be ready to take control into their own hands. Some people in the company argue that the experienced and trained security driver would have prevented this situation,” says Bhean.

“But we dont have [experienced] drivers in San Francisco,” the source explained Recode familiar with the situation. According to interlocutors of the edition, launch preparation was conducted in a hasty and promiscuous mode.

By the end of October it became clear that the test group in San Francisco had difficulties with the preparation of public testing. It was then that their aid went some engineers, programmers and drivers of the Pittsburgh division of the ATG. The task of engineers is to define the missing data — for example, locations of traffic lights, and load new code.

One of the reasons why the launch in California was not as simple as starting in Pittsburgh, due to the fact that Uber had originally planned to start its second test of autopilots in Arizona for the winter 2016, according to several sources of Recode inside the company.

After the incident with the traffic light Department of the state of California for vehicle registration canceled the license of Uber, forcing Uber to send their cars to Arizona, but the place of the original test Uber. “But Lewandowski insisted on moving to San Francisco, because testing in Arizona seemed to him not so prestigious”, — writes Bhean. Uber, a prominent member of local battles with regulators, received the necessary permits to work in California.

According to the documents, which are available on Recode, Uber is going to launch a number of unmanned vehicles in the Volvo line in San Francisco. According to other internal documents obtained by Recode, the motives of retired engineers are not unreasonable. Although unmanned vehicles every week Uber rolled more and more “Autonomous miles”, the technology is improving not so evenly.

For several months since the departure of chief engineers, 43 car Uber, which is now undergoing tests on public roads, have not become more Autonomous. As of March 8, the number of interventions of the driver, controlling the course of the experiment decreased slightly.

According to Recode, in the first week of March 2017 cars Uber has driven more than 20.3 thousand miles offline. While drivers still had to adjust the rate of an average of 10 times for every eight miles. Similar statistics was for the events of that Uber called “a bad experience” — the number of times when the car dramatically slowed, hindered or jerked.

“Judging by the schedule, during the week ending March 8, the cars had more “bad experiences” than in January. In January, the car drove “exactly” an average of four miles in the first week of March — two miles” — the author writes Recode.

In an email to employees the company ATG describes the overall feeling of a driver from one route in Arizona — how many times he had to take control in their hands, how many times the car had “bad experiences” as “not very good”. “And this despite the fact that in Arizona the Uber results are better than those that were recorded by the University of Arizona in 2015. Even in Pittsburgh, where unmanned vehicles used Uber a few months, the progress of the company is unstable,” says Bhian.

The most sensitive spot is the trails in Pittsburgh. They showed a result worse than the average [miles per threat event]. Along with the failed tests and the slow movement of technology between the ATG team, which specializiruetsya on the creation of unmanned cars, and the team of Otto, which deals with the trucks, also there is a clear contradiction the author writes Recode.

“Both sides were arguing about which group should be the priority of business. In part, this was because Kalanick did not give clear guidance. The company hopes that all will become clear after the March summit.”. However, according to the press service of the company, Uber is considering cars and trucks as an important part of their mission to provide reliable transportation.

Sources of Recode among the technical staff of both teams — Otto ATG and believe that the merger halted their development. Otto employees, many of whom joined after the departure of the larger companies such as Google and Apple in search of freedom of a startup, promised that they will remain independent and will continue to work on the trucks. But this did not happen.

“For the most part leaders Otto, who moved on to senior positions in Uber, the development of an unmanned cargo transport has become a secondary task,” says Bhean. Lewandowski emphasis on public demonstrations that requires both time and resources, broke the pace of development in ATG, forcing the team to work on an unmanned vehicle in a very short period, the sources of Recode inside the company.

However, on both fronts has been made commercial progress. Already, the team focused on the market Uber for delivery — UberFreight — and appealed to potential customers. The company entered into a second partnership agreement with Mercedes-Benz, after purchase 100 Volvo cars.

The summit on the judicial process in the Waymo, was one of the rare occasions when Kalanick addressed to the entire team ATG. “Much to the dismay of her best engineers, it was only in December, after the dismissal of the chief engineers,” writes Bhian. Although the technology of drones will not solve financial problems for Uber in the short term, it will be key for the company in the next decade.

“If so, Kalanick can finally fulfill the promises which he gave in August 2016 during an interview,” writes Bhian. In that moment, when we realized that our friends in mountain view [Google] are going to engage in the creation of unmanned vehicles, we decided to ensure that the unmanned vehicle is a real alternative. Because otherwise we are not going to do this business.

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