Uber talks driverless-car partnership with Waymo

This is the same Waymo that was suing Uber a few months ago for $1.8 billion.

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3 min read
A row of Uber's self-driving Volvos parked on the side of a city street.

Uber's self-driving cars are in neutral at the moment. A deal with Waymo could be part of getting them moving again.

James Martin/CNET

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is apparently hoping a rival can get its autonomous car program back on track.

After one of Uber's self-driving cars was involved in a fatal crash with a pedestrian in Arizona in April, the ride-hailing service temporarily halted its self-driving operations in all cities where it's been testing its vehicles.  

Now Khosrowshahi says he's looking to a competitor to get Uber's program cruising along again by this summer.

"When we get back on the road, we have to be absolutely satisfied we're getting back on the road in the safest manner possible," Khosrowshahi said Wednesday during an on-stage interview at Recode's Code Conference, which is taking place this week in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. 'We're having conversations with Waymo about putting their cars on our network. If something happens, great. If not, we can live with that, too."

"I'd welcome Waymo to put cars in our network," he said, calling the company an "incredible technology provider."

Waymo declined to comment, while Uber representatives didn't respond to a request for comment.

Watch this: Uber, Facebook take their apology tours to TV ads

A pact would represent a dramatic shift for Uber and Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google parent Alphabet. Earlier this year, the two were locked in one of the highest-profile court battles in Silicon Valley history, with Waymo seeking $1.8 billion from the ride-hailing startup for the alleged theft of trade secrets related to driverless technology.

After four days of testimony, the two companies announced a settlement in which Waymo was awarded 0.34 percent of Uber's equity, worth about $245 million given Uber's estimated valuation of $72 billion. Uber also agreed to not incorporate Waymo's confidential information into hardware and software used in its self-driving cars .

"I actually think that this focus on getting back on the road in a really safe manner ... this is going to make us a better company," he said.

When Khosrowshahi became Uber's CEO in August, he faced the daunting task of engineering a U-turn at the ride-hailing company, which had careened out of control in the previous six months, providing fodder for headline after headline. Uber lost more than 200,000 angry passengers in the #DeleteUber movement. It was outed by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, who wrote a bombshell blog detailing a chaotic corporate culture that fostered sexual harassment. Lawsuits poured in, the chief executive was forced to step aside and the company was left leaderless for two months with a dysfunctional board of directors.

Khosrowshahi dramatically reshaped Uber's famously "toxic" corporate culture, smoothed relations inside Uber's board, sealed a $9.3 billion investment deal led by Japanese internet giant Softbank and pushed to settle Waymo's lawsuit.

Looking forward, Khosrowshahi says he still expects the company to go public in the second half of 2019, but he concedes, "I need a CFO."

Besides not having a chief financial officer to usher in an IPO, what scares him the most?

"That the company is too dependent on me to make decisions," he said. "When a decision comes to me it's a failure."

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