Uber Technologies Inc. has been silently forming its Uber Advance Technologies Center in Pittsburgh.
Uber has confirmed early reports that it has selected the former Restaurant Depot area in the Strip District, a 53,000 square foot facility lease, as the site for its Advanced Technologies Center. Uber spokesperson Trina Smith said the company expects the transfer finished before the year ends.
Uber's test cars with "Uber Advanced Technologies Center" stickered on their sides have been less discreet as they have been hitting the streets of Pittsburgh. Also noticeable is the rotating device at the rooftop of their vehicle, and this suggests that it is a LIDAR sensor that maps the immediate surroundings. The device has an identical profile to LIDAR gear installed in Google's self-driving vehicles but looks very different from the sensor seen on the alleged Apple car.
"This vehicle is part of our early research efforts regarding mapping, safety and autonomy systems," Smith wrote in an email.
Smith refused to offer more specifics, and it is not surprising from a business perspective. Uber is not the lone company considering taking a stake in driverless vehicle technology.
Uber has been in direct rivalry with Google, its biggest investor, since the company's decision to develop its own self-driving technology. Google has been engineering driverless car technology ever since 2010 and has a target year of 2020 for a successful driverless vehicle.
This summer, Google's self-driving vehicles are advancing from the experimental tracks and will be speeding on the real highway in the company's hometown of Mountain View, California. The Google car has no pedals or steering wheel, so it is up to its internal computers to control the driving. However, in accordance with California laws, a human driver will accompany these prototypes with detachable driving pedals and steering wheel, for precautionary purposes.
Uber has employed dozens of senior researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center to further the research in autonomous technology.
Autonomous driving has been a known specialization of CMU, and the university runs the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Laboratory. The research lab was created after CMU's driverless car conquered the DARPA Urban Challenge last 2007.
For Uber, driverless cars would remove its largest expense, which is the driver workforce. Last year, the rideshare company hired about 160,000 drivers all around the world.
Travis Kalanick, Uber chief executive officer, has been honest and eager about his aspiration to replace the individuals driving the company cars with high-tech cars that can drive autonomously.