Uber isn't waiting for the technology to catch up with its ambitious plans.
The car-hailing and stuff-delivering monolith is pitching its hauling services and infrastructure to "shippers, truck fleets, and independent drivers," according to the report. And these services go beyond what Otto offers now--or even planned to offer at the time of its acquisition. Yes, Uber seems to be pitching services that aren't anywhere close to existing at present.
If you don't know Otto, it is a San Francisco-based startup, comprising many former Googlers, which created technology to convert conventional long-haul trucks into self-driving vehicles. The technology is aimed at one day allowing truck drivers to relax, eat, and sleep while hauling cargo around the U.S. highway system. (Their human driving skills would still be necessary for off-highway maneuvering.)
Uber bought Otto over the summer, acquiring its technology and roughly 100 employees in what's estimated to be a $680 million deal.
Otto has just six functioning trucks, according to Reuters. So for now, Uber remains a long way from being able to disrupt the $700 billion domestic long-haul trucking industry. Experts point out that the sector is a complex maze to navigate, full of unique challenges and tight margins. Uber's model may not easily translate.
"I don't really see it as a near-term threat, just because of how complex the industry really is," Jack Atkins, a transportation industry analyst, told Reuters. "It's not as simple as, 'Hey, I want to go from point A to point B in Midtown.'"
Is Uber still trying to answer the question of whether the trucking industry really is primed for disruption by seeking out customers before it has a product to offer? Or is it just looking for a major deal to jump-start mass production of Otto's technology?
We'll know sooner than later: By Otto's founder's own estimates, it will enter the long-haul trucking industry next year.