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Uber will partner with University of Arizona for self-driving car research

The new hub will focus on optics systems

Uber is setting up a new self-driving car project at the University of Arizona, according to an email sent out today to university employees. The new project will focus on self-driving car technology, particularly the mapping and optics challenges involved in developing a fully autonomous vehicle. An official statement from Uber confirmed the news, saying, "we’ll work with some of the world’s leading experts in lens design at the University to improve the imagery we capture and use to build out mapping and safety features." The project comes just months after a major hiring push for Uber's Pittsburgh center, which many complained had hired so many experts away from the local robotics lab that they had effectively gutted competing projects.

According to a statement from Arizona's governor, the partnership will focus on the optics systems necessary for mapping and safety, and will result in a number of Uber's test vehicles taking up permanent residence in Arizona. Uber will donate $25,000 to the university's College of Optical Sciences. Further details are still being worked out, but the partnership seems designed to position Tucson as a new hub for much of Uber's ongoing research into autonomous vehicles.

The full email sent to University of Arizona staff is reproduced below:

I am very pleased to announce that this morning, I had the honor of welcoming Governor Doug Ducey, Representative Martha McSally, and Brian McClendon, Vice President of Advanced Technologies for Uber Technologies Inc., to the UA main campus. We held a press conference to announce an exciting new partnership between Uber and the University of Arizona.

Through the statement of intent that we signed today, Uber and the UA have agreed to work together on educational, workforce development, and research efforts in optics, engineering, and education for the benefit of both parties and for that of Southern Arizona. This partnership builds on the UA’s history of excellence in optical sciences and will fund important research here at the UA in the coming years. Details of the agreement are yet to be finalized but common areas of interest and expertise include mapping and autonomous or "self-driving" technology.

Uber will also partner with the UA on student engagement and a scholarship program in the College of Optical Sciences that will support our efforts in the 100% Engagement initiative as well as those in expanding accessibility to affordable higher education. This is a very exciting new partnership, and I am so very glad that the UA’s global research leadership and commitment to innovation allows us to join in a collaborative effort that will have great benefit for this state. One of the exciting facets of public-private partnerships such as this one with Uber is to see University research engaged at the forefront of commercial and technological innovation. I am impressed with Uber’s vision and commitment to support discovery that will drive Arizona’s innovation and knowledge economy. I am grateful for Governor Ducey's support for this partnership and for his leadership in helping to facilitate it. I look forward to the great things the partnership will do for our state and its people.

Update August 25th 9:45PM ET: Updated to include Uber's official statement.