We knew this day would come, but we didn’t know it would be this soon.
According to TechCrunch, Uber is building a research facility in Pittsburgh to invent its own self-driving cars. Not content to rely on Google, the on-demand ride company has reportedly recruited researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute to build the product.
It has staffed up with 50 senior scientists who will work on the software technology and the vehicles themselves. The Robotics Institute has been “cleaned out” with the flood of high profile departures, the TechCrunch report said.
After this story published, Uber released a blog post confirming the news. It called the center a “partnership” between Carnegie Mellon and Uber. The building will be called the Uber Advanced Technologies Center. As part of its development, Uber will fund faculty chairs and graduate fellowships at Carnegie Mellon. And in the blog post announcing the news, Uber included supportive quotes from Carnegie Mellon’s dean of the computer science department and the Pittsburgh mayor.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has said for a long time that the company intended to eventually shift to self-driving vehicles. That would cut a huge chunk of its revenue cost — drivers take 80 percent of every transaction. “When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle,” he explained at the Code conference in May.
Many have used Kalanick’s remarks as proof the company doesn’t care about its drivers’ well-being, since it hopes to eventually eliminate the need for them. On the flip side, the convenience, safety, and efficiency for passengers would be substantial.
A shift to self-driving cars would fundamentally change the nature of Uber’s business by putting the company in charge of the vehicle fleets it deploys. Until now, it has acted as a transportation platform, connecting willing riders to willing drivers, but not owning the hardware of the operation itself.
According to the report, Uber has already started to build work stations for the scientists, although there’s no word on the project’s timeline for completion.