Insider Transportation: How Uber nearly swiped Google's self-driving crown

More than three years ago, I decided my day job wasn't enough for me, admitted my social life wasn't much of a sacrifice, and began writing a book about the rise of the self-driving car. Getting my arms around the story required interviewing more than 120 people, sifting through thousands of legal, governmental, and military documents, and making multiple trips to Silicon Valley, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. Really, I had a blast.

This week, I finally published "Driven: The Race to Create the Autonomous Car," my chronicle of how a small band of engineers went from crashing robots in military-focused desert races, to launching Google's ambitious self-driving research project, to sparking a full-fledged industry. 

If you're looking for a taste of the story, check out the feature I wrote for Insider, which zeroes in on the destructive rivalry between Google engineers Anthony Levandowski and Chris Urmson. They fought for power, for the direction their team and technology would take, and — embarrassingly — over what kind of buttons their robo-cars should use. And when Levandowski quit in 2016 and decamped for Uber, their conflict morphed into a battle between Larry Page and Travis Kalanick, sparking a bruising legal brawl and ultimately landing Levandowski an 18-month prison sentence. 

Read the full story of how Uber nearly swiped Google's self-driving crown right here, get more of the week's transportation news below, and if you haven't yet, sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox every week.

What Waymo must do in 2021 to keep rivals like Cruise and Aurora at bay

Despite a few mishaps along the way, Waymo has maintained its status as the self-driving industry's leader, and it did much in 2020 to cement that status. But nothing last forever, and if the Google spinoff wants to remain the top dog going forward, experts say it must spend 2021 expanding its services beyond Phoenix.

Automakers and car dealers are poised to have a great year

Despite concerns that the US auto market would crumble when COVID-19 started its sweep across the country, the industry has managed surprisingly well — and 2021 is already looking good. That's because the pandemic didn't seriously impact the overall availability of credit, the stuff that makes car sales go round. 

The startups that could deliver flying cars

Yes, bringing electric, autonomous, efficient aircraft to urban centers will be difficult. Regulations, battery science, autonomous tech, and more require mastery before takeoff becomes possible. But they are workable, and plenty of startups have taken up the task. Here's our rundown of which companies are most likely to succeed. 

Everything else: 

  • Elon Musk reacts to becoming world's richest person: 'How strange'
  • Mercedes' flagship EV will have a giant, 56-inch screen spanning the entire width of the car
  • How Henrik Fisker and a little-known auto giant are developing a new way to produce electric cars
  • Meet the 15 top Ford executives leading the 117-year-old automaker into an electric future
  • American Airlines just ramped up its Boeing 737 Max operations after a week of successful trial flights
  • Ford's electric-car mastermind explains how his team made the Mustang Mach-E stand out against competitors like Tesla

Get the latest Google stock price here.

Axel Springer, Insider Inc.’s parent company, is an investor in Uber.

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