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Uber poaches a top Ford engineer to help build self-driving cars

Sherif Marakby, come on down!

Add Ford to the list of companies that are being pillaged by Uber in its quest to excel in the hyper-competitive world of self-driving cars. Sherif Marakby, director of global electronics and engineering at Ford, is joining Uber as vice president of global vehicle programs, the ride-hail company told The Verge Thursday. Marakby will relocate from Detroit to Pittsburgh, where Uber is busy expanding its Advanced Technologies Center.

In Pittsburgh, Marakby will oversee "manufacturer strategy and integration efforts," which may or may not include the actual construction of autonomous vehicles. (Uber wouldn't say whether its building its own self-driving cars, although the company is said to be shopping for a fleet of vehicles in Germany.) He'll report to Brian McClendon, who was a vice president at Google in charge of the mapping division before leaving the search giant to run Uber's self-driving car program. "Self-driving technology is a hard challenge to solve with enormous potential to improve people's lives," McClendon said in a statement. "Sherif is a world expert and we're excited to have him join the team."

"Self-driving technology can help prevent these tragedies as well as improve the quality of life in cities."

In his own statement, Marakby framed his decision to jump from the traditional auto industry to a company that aims to upend that world as one motivated by safety. "Over one million people die in car accidents every year — €”in the US it's the most common cause of death amongst young people," he said. "Self-driving technology can help prevent these tragedies as well as improve the quality of life in cities. It's one of the many reasons I am so excited to join Uber's team in Pittsburgh."

Uber has been wooing engineers and self-driving car experts to join its Pittsburgh operation for months now. In addition to McClendon, Google Maps product manager Manik Gupta jumped to Uber's mapping division late last year. Last May, the $62.5 billion startup pretty much cleaned out the entire robotics research unit at Carnegie Mellon University.

A few months later, it struck a partnership with the University of Arizona to develop self-driving technology, particularly the mapping and optics challenges involved in developing a fully autonomous vehicle. Interestingly enough, Google just announced it would be testing its own self-driving cars in Phoenix.