Uber to require a 6-hour break for every 12 hours of driving in the U.S.


Uber has added a feature that will force a six-hour offline break whenever a driver on its platform reaches 12 hours of driving time. The feature is similar to one that Uber has in place in a few markets already around the U.S., which differs depending on local regulations, but this will apply across the U.S., and fully block use of the driver app for accepting trips during the six-hour period when it becomes active.

Uber’s decision to roll this out was made as a response to the problem of drowsy driving and driver fatigue, both of which are issues that continue to affect people on the road, even if driving while using mobile devices and intoxicated driving get more press and scrutiny.

The Uber feature implementation will trigger when a driver has driven 12 hours without taking a continual, six-hour break at any point between. Drivers will have full visibility into how much driving they’ve done according to Uber, which measures based on a number of factors, and will count things like when you’re stopped at a stoplight (your brain is still engaged in the driving activity, even if you’re temporarily stopped), but won’t count time spent waiting in an airport parking lot to be called for a pickup, for instance, since many drivers use these as napping and rest opportunities.

Uber’s Head of Safety Product Sachin Kansal explained that the company relied on its ample experience with drivers and working with road safety organizations in determining what does and doesn’t count towards a user’s total driving time.

“There’s definitely a lot of third-party expertise that has gone into our thinking,” Kansal said in an interview. “But it’s also that we know how our drivers drive, we know road conditions, so we have baked all that into it as well.”

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This limit likely won’t impact the majority of drivers on its platform, the company notes, because around 60 percent of its drivers don’t even use Uber over 10 hours per week, but Kansal tells me that a relatively small number do tip the scales as heavy users. The company wants to do its part to address this safety issue, however, Kansal tells me, and to do so proactively, even where it’s not specifically required by local bylaws.

Uber has studied the feature where implemented in other markets (including Australia, where it launched previously) and built this U.S.-facing version with a lot of feedback in mind. That’s why the app will provide notifications when you’re nearing that 12 hour limit, effectively counting down so that it’s fully transparent and not surprising to a driver when they max out. When the six-hour break is over, the app will once again unlock itself for bookings. Also, where different rules are required by local law, those will apply instead of this new cross-U.S. limit.

Rival Lyft has a driver limit in place, too, which mandates a six-hour break for every 14 hours spent in driver mode, but it’s not as granular as Uber’s. Uber says it also plans to evaluate continued international rollout on an ongoing basis, and to expect this change to be introduced gradually across the driver app in the U.S. one the next few weeks.

Uber’s new CEO could probably win at 10 dimensional chess


The courtroom has been cleared, the lights are off in the spillover room on the 19th floor and the initial takes are in on the Uber vs. Waymo trial.

Uber will give Alphabet, the parent company of both Waymo and the search giant Google, some $244 million worth of stock, and agree to ensure that no Waymo intellectual property will make its way into Uber autonomous vehicles.

While Uber has settled, this is hardly a Waymo victory. Indeed, the only person who comes out of this looking like a winner is Uber’s new chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi.

For some reporters, Khosrowshahi’s decision to settle was a foregone conclusion, but that was before the trial began and the strategies (such as they were) of the opposing sides became clear.

Once the trial was underway, Waymo’s victory began to look less and less like a foregone conclusion.

Uber’s former chief executive Travis Kalanick and Anthony Levandowski, the incredibly talented and incredibly ambitious technologist whose decision to leave Google’s self-driving car program for Uber set off the lawsuit in the first place, both came out of the proceedings looking appropriately terrible (they acted terribly).

But Waymo did not appear to be making headway with its actual charge that any of the (very likely) allegedly misappropriated technology wound up in Uber’s autonomous vehicle systems.

Beyond the facts of the case, there was the potential for Alphabet’s own executive team to come off looking less-than-stellar when Uber presented its defense.

By settling the case now, Khosrowshahi looks nothing short of magnanimous. His predecessor has been publicly humiliated, along with the former employee whose hiring triggered the case, executives at Alphabet are spared from having to take the stand and answer for whatever mistakes they may have made in handling Levandowski (and his departure), and Uber is only paying $244 million to get out from under the lawsuit. (I know $244 million isn’t chump change, but compared to how bad things were potentially looking at the outset of the trial, the payout is a bargain).

With the settlement Khosrowshahi takes another long stride in moving past the mistakes that have bedeviled Uber almost since its inception — and certainly since it became the ride-sharing juggernaut that wanted to be uber alles under Kalanick’s increasingly tone deaf leadership.

Read the last lines of Khosrowshahi’s statement and you’ll see what I mean.

While I cannot erase the past, I can commit, on behalf of every Uber employee, that we will learn from it, and it will inform our actions going forward. I’ve told Alphabet that the incredible people at Uber ATG are focused on ensuring that our development represents the very best of Uber’s innovation and experience in self-driving technology.

As we change the way we operate and put integrity at the core of every decision we make, we look forward to the great race to build the future. We believe that race should be fair—and one whose ultimate winners are people, cities and our environment.

And the rapprochement between the two firms makes good business sense as well. Uber had a longer way to go with its autonomous vehicle program than it wanted to admit (something that trial documents make very clear) if it was going to catch up with Waymo. Now, there’s at least the potential partnership down the road. And as both companies see Amazon in their rearview mirror, a decision to be best frenemies makes even more sense.

Featured Image: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Waymo gets to the heart of its case


Attorneys for Waymo, Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle spinout, are nearing the end of their plaintiffs presentation against Uber in a trial that is likely to have broad ramifications for the common Valley practice of acqui-hiring talent.

The case hinges on whether the jury believes Uber’s assertion that the technology used in its autonomous car project was developed and acquired independently, in spite of the fact that the company almost assuredly received data on the same technology from Alphabet’s servers as part of Uber’s acquisition of Anthony Levandowski’s company Otto.

Today’s courtroom testimony hinged on two critical points. The first was the scope of the due diligence that Uber conducted during its negotiations with Otto. The second was whether the documents that Levandowski brought with him from Google were sufficiently vital in the development of Uber’s autonomous car project to merit damages.

Arguments ranged from the banal to the bizarre with a good portion of the proceedings taken up by a fairly lengthy explanation of Google’s security measures (quite extensive as one would assume). Uber’s defense attorneys responded by noting that one of Waymo’s top engineers carried an early prototype of its proprietary LIDAR technology to Burning Man (okay, maybe not as extensive as one would hope).

We will have more arguments tomorrow from Waymo, and then the complete case from defendant Uber. Whatever the end result, the case has serious implications for the acquisition of startups, and corporate development heads are paying close attention to how to improve processes — particularly around due diligence — to ensure they aren’t caught in an intellectual property thicket like Uber is facing right now.

To recap a bit: Uber allegedly acquired trade secrets from Waymo when it lured one of the founding figures of the autonomous vehicle movement — Anthony Levandowski — away from Google with promise of riches and independence to pursue his own path within Uber’s massive corporate machinery. Uber did wind up acquiring Levandowski — and the company he set up, Otto — along with several of Waymo’s top engineering talent.

It’s clear to most outside observers that Kalanick and Levandowski were doing some shady, shady stuff (indemnifying Otto executives against intellectual property lawsuits; downloading information from Google’s internal servers onto personal computers; wiping Google hardware; sending each other weird clips of the Gordon Gecko “greed is good” speech), but what’s less clear is how much of the technology that Levandowski accessed actually made it into Uber’s autonomous vehicle program.

While the the technical points will determine this trial’s outcome, the broader problem is that Silicon Valley has a very, very, long history of rewarding just this sort of bad behavior. The Bay Area’s tech industry was created with what may be the most famous example of intellectual property “theft” in history: the infamous “traitorous eight” who left Shockley Semiconductor Laboratories to form Fairchild Semiconductor and kicked off the modern computing era.

Fast forward a few decades, and you arrive at today’s case, with Waymo suing Uber for the theft of trade secrets related to its self-driving car program.

That Uber — a poster child for startup malfeasance and miscreantism — could manage to cast a pall over Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial spirit is yet another example of how the company’s hyper-aggressive corporate practices have done real damage to the Bay Area’s startup factory. But it’s culture of acquisitions is not unique, and the Valley needs to own up to its history.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

In an alternate universe Lyft may have bought Otto


The Uber vs. Waymo trial took a turn for the the weird today when testimony revealed that Otto, the company whose acquisition is at the center of this lawsuit, was entertaining bids from other suitors.

For a bit of background, Otto is the self-driving truck company that Anthony Levandowski co-founded with Lior Ron. Both men previously worked at Google/Alphabet/Waymo — Levandowski on autonomous vehicles (first at Google X, the company’s moonshot division, and then at Waymo, which was spun out as an independent subsidiary business of Alphabet, Google’s holding company) and Ron at Google Maps.

During proceedings, Ron, Otto’s co-founder with Levandowski revealed that the company was not just in acquisition negotiations with Uber — which eventually acquired the company (the event that triggered this lawsuit) — but was also entertaining bids from Uber’s chief competitor in the U.S. Lyft.

There’re no details on how far along that discussion went with Lyft, but in some alternate universe, there’s a world where Otto was acquired by Lyft — and this lawsuit may never have happened.

In that world, Waymo’s lawyers would be potentially battling it out with Lyft attorneys over the acquisition — and Alphabet could have spent its $1 billion doubling down on Uber’s efforts in ride-sharing.

In an alternate universe Lyft may have bought Otto


The Uber vs. Waymo trial took a turn for the the weird today when testimony revealed that Otto, the company whose acquisition is at the center of this lawsuit, was entertaining bids from other suitors.

For a bit of background, Otto is the self-driving truck company that Anthony Levandowski co-founded with Lior Ron. Both men previously worked at Google/Alphabet/Waymo — Levandowski on autonomous vehicles (first at Google X, the company’s moonshot division, and then at Waymo, which was spun out as an independent subsidiary business of Alphabet, Google’s holding company) and Ron at Google Maps.

During proceedings, Ron, Otto’s co-founder with Levandowski revealed that the company was not just in acquisition negotiations with Uber — which eventually acquired the company (the event that triggered this lawsuit) — but was also entertaining bids from Uber’s chief competitor in the U.S. Lyft.

There’re no details on how far along that discussion went with Lyft, but in some alternate universe, there’s a world where Otto was acquired by Lyft — and this lawsuit may never have happened.

In that world, Waymo’s lawyers would be potentially battling it out with Lyft attorneys over the acquisition — and Alphabet could have spent its $1 billion doubling down on Uber’s efforts in ride-sharing.

Lyft expands tax-saving commuter benefits to all Lyft Line cities


Lyft is hoping to make its Lyft Line commuter route service even more appealing by expanding commuter benefits, which allows riders to use pre-tax dollars via a benefits card from a number of providers to pay for their ride. This can result in savings of up to 35 percent vs. paying for the service the usual way.

Lyft Line currently operates in 18 cities across the U.S., and Lyft says that in total around 42 percent of its users are using it for their daily commute, at least in part. Lyft Line is an attempt to capitalize on that, offering something with capacity for up to six passengers designed to pair riders going in the same direction. Lyft Shuttle, a more recent experiment, is a subset of Line that offers a similar ridehsharing model, but with fixed routes and more regular scheduling.

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This commuter benefits option is a way to help further increase the cost incentive aspect of shared ride service. Line is a product with strong potential for Lyft, because it works well from an economics perspective in terms of Lyft’s revenue, payout for drivers and cost for riders when there’s high utilization. But, sharing a ride obviously isn’t as convenient as having your own, so additional incentives, including tapping into benefits offered to commuters from employee benefits packages, is a smart move.

Again, you’ll need to have benefits from specific providers (WageWorks, Benefit Resource, Commuter Benefit Solutions, Navia, Zenefits, and Ameriflex, to be specific) and live in one of the 18 markets where Line currently operates to take advantage. But Lyft needs levers to make its shared ride services more popular, and this could definitely be that.

Uber CEO hopes to have self-driving cars in service in 18 months


Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was speaking to Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait today at the new outlet’s event #TheYearAhead event, and he shared some more information about Uber’s plans around autonomy, and autonomous ride-hailing service rollout.

“True autonomy for every single use case, is some ways away,” Khosrowshahi began, acknowledging that the problem is a massive one to solve. But, he suggested that the first Uber autonomous vehicles to be deployed commercially would be on streets relatively soon.

“We will have autonomous cars on the road, I believe within the next 18 months,” he said. “And not as a test case, as a real [use] case out there.”

Uber has put its autonomous vehicles on roads in a testing capacity in a number of different pilot projects, including most recently in Arizona. Khosrowshahi described how this will lead to a “feathering in” of autonomous vehicles in their ride-hailing mix, with the aim of eventually giving over a greater portion of rides to AVs.

The Uber CEO described how in, for example, Phoenix, there will be 95% of cases where the company may not have everything mapped perfectly, or the weather might not be perfect, or there could be other factors that will mean Uber will opt to send a driver. “But in 5 percent of cases, we’ll send an autonomous car,” Khosrowshahi said, when everything’s just right, and still the user will be able to choose whether they get an AV or a regular car.

That initial 5 percent is going to grow to 10, to 15 and 20 as Uber’s algorithms learn more about what it takes to drive in a real-world situation, he said, and then “in five years, we will have the perfect driver in Phoenix.”

Khosrowshahi added that Uber will then have to retrain its computer driver in every city, and that he then expects within 10 to 15 years to be able to serve most cities competently with autonomous tech. Asked whether child born today would even have to learn how to drive, Khosrowshahi confidently said he didn’t believe they would.