Is Anybody Big Enough to Acquir

Kirsten Korosec has a blockbuster story in TechCrunch about Uber’s efforts to spin off its Advanced Technology Group (ATG). This marks the latest twist in the too-crazy-even-for-Hollywood saga of Uber’s self-driving unit.

Korosec reports that Uber is in discussions to sell ATG to Aurora, although Korosec notes that:

“Even with the expected depletion in Uber ATG’s valuation, it would be seemingly out-of-range for Aurora unless it was able to secure additional outside investment or structure the deal in a way that would allow Uber to keep some equity.”

Uber ATG has twice as many employees as Aurora, further raising the question of who would be acquiring whom.

ATG has been through all sorts of drama — starting with controversy related to hiring away a large portion of Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics team, to subsequently acquiring Otto, a startup headed by former leaders of what is now Waymo (and was then called the Google Self-Driving Car Project). Google sued Uber and Otto founder Anthony Levandowski, in particular, settling just as the case went to trial. That particular controversy was a factor in the ouster of Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.

The biggest ATG crisis was the fatal collision with pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in Phoenix, Arizona, in early 2018. That collision prompted ATG to halt all on-road autonomous vehicle testing for months, and cast a shadow over the whole industry.

I have always been impressed by the caliber of the ATG team, particularly the individuals who worked with Udacity to build our Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree Program.

As Korosec’s article points out, Uber is trying to divest non-core groups across the board, including its JUMP bicycle division and several international affiliates. ATG is part of that effort. But, at 1200 employees, ATG may be the single largest self-driving car organization in the world right now — perhaps only Cruise and Waymo are of comparable size. Which raises all sorts of questions about who might be able to or interested in absorbing all that talent.

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