In a battered warehouse in San Francisco, Uber is working on what it thinks will be a shortcut in the race to make money from vehicles that drive themselves. A fleet of six modified white Volvo truck cabs operate out of a brick building in the SoMa district popular with technology startups. Around the clock, at least one of the vehicles is steering itself around Bay Area highways.
The trucks have radar, cameras and lidar—which maps in 3-D using lasers—added to their roofs and fenders by Otto, a startup that Uberacquired last month. The startup’s team is sharing data and technology with Uber’s group in Pittsburgh, which is working on autonomous cars to carry passengers. But Otto is still focused on its original business plan—creating a computer copilot that can let a trucker sleep during long stretches of highway driving. The truck would pull over and stop when it was time to leave the highway, or for the driver to take over again.