Uber and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) announced yesterday a strategic partnership that includes the creation of the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, near the CMU campus.
“As a global leader in urban transportation, we have the unique opportunity to invest in leading edge technologies to enable the safe and efficient movement of people and things at giant scale.” – Jeff Holden, Uber Chief Product Officer
The robotic research lab will focus on the development of key long-term technologies, primarily in the areas of mapping, vehicle safety and autonomy technology. Apparently, Uber has hired more than fifty senior scientists from Carnegie Mellon as well as from the National Robotics Engineering Center, a CMU-affiliated research entity.
The fact that Uber is kickstarting the development of an autonomous taxi fleet shouldn’t come as a surpise. From traditional car manufacturers to Google, Tesla and Baidu, many strategic players are already actively working on autonomous driving projects. Last May, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick already revealed he would replace human drivers with self-driving cars.
“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.” – Uber CEO Travis Kalanick
Uber’s plan to disrupt itself is rational, even if the company is ironically notorious for fiercely recruiting taxi drivers and drivers from its direct competitors. The truth is that self-driving cars are already here. They cannot handle inclement weather yet, but I’m pretty sure they will soon. At that stage, government regulations might be more challenging that technologic hurdles.
The ultimate irony of Uber’s attempt to build Google-like autonomous cars is that Google itself might build a Uber-like car service. Add to the equation Google’s $258 million investment in Uber made by Google Ventures in 2013, and everything starts to get spicier in Silicon Valley.