Uber Opening Robotics Research Facility In Pittsburgh To Build Self-Driving Cars

Driver-on-demand service Uber is building a robotics research lab in Pittsburgh, PA to “kickstart autonomous taxi fleet development,” sources close to the decision have confirmed to TechCrunch. They say the company has hired talent from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, including lead engineering and commercialization experts.

No one at Carnegie Mellon or Uber agreed to discuss the deal on the record but an announcement should be forthcoming. Update: Uber published a blog post today outlining its partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, confirming our reporting.

Sources tell us Uber is hiring more than fifty senior scientists from Carnegie Mellon as well as from the National Robotics Engineering Center, a CMU-affiliated research entity. Carnegie Mellon, home of the Mars Rover and other high-profile robotics projects, declined to comment at this time, as did scientists mentioned by our source. Uber has “cleaned out” the Robotics Institute, said the source.

The source also noted that most of these technologies came through a “massive” military spending push over the past decade and should net the university millions in IP licensing fees.

Uber will be developing the core technology, the vehicles, and associated infrastructure at this Pittsburgh facility, according to sources. They have already hired a number of employees and made moves to outfit them with software, including a multi-hundred-thousand dollar investment in third-party engineering workstations.

In the past, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has said he would replace human drivers with self-driving cars. The decision to run the facility in Pittsburgh makes perfect sense, given the proximity to CMU and the potential secrecy afforded by moving research out of Silicon Valley.

In a related story, Bloomberg Business is reporting that Google is looking into creating an on-demand car service of its own, which is very interesting considering Uber’s interest in automated vehicles. It also raises questions about Google’s David Drummond maintaining a spot on Uber’s board. Google has integrated Uber into its Google Maps products and has taken an investment in Uber via its Google Ventures arm.

No specific plans for a roll-out date or goals for Uber’s automated driving efforts were mentioned. The company recently raised $4 billion in equity and debt including $1.6 billion in convertible debt earlier this month. This follows a $1.4 billion Series D funding round over the summer as well as another $1.2 round in December. The company is now valued at $41 billion.

Updated to add reports of Google competing with Uber.