Uber is spending some of its vast war chest on a new facility that could pave the way for self-driving cars to join its fleet of taxis. Today it announced joint plans with Carnegie Mellon University to create the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh. Some of its projects include research and design of autonomous vehicles, as well as vehicle safety technologies.
"The partnership will provide a forum for Uber technology leaders to work closely with [Carnegie Mellon University] faculty, staff, and students — both on campus and at the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) — to do research and development, primarily in the areas of mapping and vehicle safety and autonomy technology," Uber said in a blog post. The company added that a formal event for the project will occur in Pittsburgh the coming weeks.
The center will focus on maps, safety, and autonomy
Rumblings of the project were reported earlier today by TechCrunch.
The move shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Last May, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said that self-driving cars were an inevitability for the company's business. "The reason Uber could be expensive is because you're not just paying for the car — you're paying for the other dude in the car," he said during an interview at the Code Conference. "When there's no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away."
While accurate, Kalanick's statement didn't exactly jibe with the company's line that drivers can get rich. It has fiercely attempted to recruit taxi drivers, as well as drivers for other car services with promises of earning more. Kalanick combated that by saying it would be a "multi-decade" transition.
Drivers on @uber_nyc making $90k/yr Driverless car is a multi-decade transition. Let's take a breath and I'll see you in the year 2035— travis kalanick (@travisk) May 28, 2014
Uber is one of several companies racing to figure out a way to make driving autonomous. Google, Tesla, and a number of automakers are well underway with projects to make cars that don't need drivers. Some of the main hurdles that still exist include computer vision technologies that can identify things on the road (and their behavior), radar systems that can handle inclement weather, cost, and government regulations.
Everyone's racing to ditch the driver
News of the program comes alongside a separate report from Bloomberg about Google wanting to develop its own Uber-like taxi service. That's despite a $258 million investment in Uber made by Google Ventures in August 2013, as well as Google's chief legal officer David Drummond sitting on Uber's board. Google introduced the option to call an Uber car from within its Google Maps app last May, though more recently has shown an affinity for its competitor Lyft in its other services.