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Uber Is Giving Self-Driving Car Project to a Start-Up

In 2016, Uber acquired the autonomous trucking start-up Otto, led by Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer. When Google first tested its self-driving car on public roads a decade ago, Mr. Levandowski and Mr. Urmson, who had played a key role in Google’s original self-driving car project before cofounding Aurora, were two of the project’s key engineers. The test was a milestone that eventually led to an investment frenzy.

The acquisition, which valued Otto at $680 million, turned sour when Waymo filed a lawsuit against Uber in early 2017, claiming that Mr. Levandowski had stolen trade secrets from Google. Uber fired Mr. Levandowski, and though the case went to trial, the companies eventually settled. Uber agreed to give Google a stake in the company valued at $72 million.

Federal prosecutors charged Mr. Levandowski with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison earlier this year.

The death of a woman in Tempe, Ariz., in March 2018 — ultimately attributed to driver error and other safety shortcomings — was a grim turning point for Uber and other self-driving car projects. Uber and other companies suspended their road tests. Even after tests resumed, new investments slowed. When Uber finally returned its cars to the road, they continued to fall short of expectations.

In 2018, Uber received a $500 million investment from Toyota to help keep the self-driving unit afloat. The investment marked a shift in Uber’s strategy, signaling that the company no longer wanted to develop its own self-driving car but rather plug its navigation technology into a vehicle made by a traditional manufacturer.

A year later, Toyota added to its investment, partnering with Denso and the SoftBank Vision Fund to pour $1 billion into Uber’s self-driving effort. The deal valued Uber’s A.T.G. at $7.25 billion. The cash infusion bought A.T.G. some time, but its long-term future at Uber remained unclear. The unit was expensive to operate, though Uber maintained it would become profitable by 2021.

In 2019, when a well-known start-up sold itself to Apple, the nascent autonomous vehicle industry began to consolidate.

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