Autonomous vehicles promise to revolutionize the way we get around, and with the combination of self-driving vehicles and ride-sharing services threatening to put a dent in car ownership levels, vehicle manufacturers are looking to align themselves with ride-sharing companies. In 2016, General Motors announced a US$500 million investment in Lyft to develop autonomous ride-sharing vehicles, and now Toyota has announced a similar investment in Uber with the same goal in mind.

Toyota's $500 million investment in Uber marks an expansion in the collaboration between the two companies, which is aimed at prompting advancement of self-driving technologies and bringing autonomous ride-sharing services to market at scale. To this end, Toyota and Uber will merge their technological expertise in purpose-built Toyota vehicles that will join Uber's ride-sharing fleet.

The Toyota Guardian automated support system and Uber's Autonomous Driving System will both be integrated into what the companies are calling the "Autono-MaaS" (autonomous-mobility as a service) fleet, which will initially be based on Toyota's Sienna Minivan platform.

"Uber's automated driving system and Toyota's Guardian system will independently monitor the vehicle environment and real-time situation, enhancing overall vehicle safety for both the automated driver and the vehicle," said Dr. Gill Pratt, Toyota Research Institute CEO and TMC Fellow. "We look forward to this partnership accelerating both companies' development and deployment of automated driving technology."

Possibly in response to the fatality involving a pedestrian and a self-driving Uber in March, Uber says it will adopt a new business model for this Autono-MaaS fleet, with the Toyota minivans to be owned and operated by a third party rather than Uber itself.

The pair aim to begin pilot-scale deployments of the autonomous vehicles on Uber's ride-sharing network in 2021.

Sources: Toyota, Uber

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