It looks like Uber is getting serious about its plan for self-driving cars

Uber is muscling up its plans to create self-driving cars.

According to The Verge, Uber is working on a new self-driving car endeavour at the University of Arizona.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey released a statement Tuesday about the partnership, which will focus primarily on research and development in mapping and optics. As part of the partnership, Uber will donate $US25,000 of its vast $US7 billion warchest to the university’s College of Optical Sciences.

Months ago, Uber made a play for the self-driving car space by attracting staff from Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department. At the time, some complained that Uber’s big hiring move in Pittsburgh completely gutted competing, local projects.

People — mainly software developers at first — started leaving CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) back in January. Soon, nearly a third of the department’s staff had moved around the corner to a new facility set up by Uber in a renovated chocolate factory.

All in all, 40 former NREC staff made the move. The Verge points out that some of the department’s top ranking people now work for Uber, including six out of eight of NREC’s commercialization specialists, and Anthony Stentz, the center’s director for the past four and a half years.

In February, Uber and CMU went public with a partnership deal that was to result in joint advances in research and development for maps, vehicle safety, and autonomous driving. Uber will also fund faculty chairs and graduate fellowships for the university.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has pointed out the benefits of self-driving cars in the past, highlighting that creating a fleet of driverless vehicles removes most of the cost of the service — which could eventually remove the need for car ownership completely.

“The reason Uber could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car — you’re paying for the other dude in the car,” Kalanick said at Recode’s Code Conference in May 2014. “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.”

Here’s the full text of the email sent out to University of Arizona staff Tuesday, courtesy of The Verge:

I am very pleased to announce that this morning, I had the honour of welcoming Governor Doug Ducey, Representative Martha McSally, and Brian McClendon, Vice President of Advanced Technologies for Uber Technologies Inc., to the UA main campus. We held a press conference to announce an exciting new partnership between Uber and the University of Arizona.

Through the statement of intent that we signed today, Uber and the UA have agreed to work together on educational, workforce development, and research efforts in optics, engineering, and education for the benefit of both parties and for that of Southern Arizona. This partnership builds on the UA’s history of excellence in optical sciences and will fund important research here at the UA in the coming years. Details of the agreement are yet to be finalised but common areas of interest and expertise include mapping and autonomous or “self-driving” technology.

Uber will also partner with the UA on student engagement and a scholarship program in the College of Optical Sciences that will support our efforts in the 100% Engagement initiative as well as those in expanding accessibility to affordable higher education. This is a very exciting new partnership, and I am so very glad that the UA’s global research leadership and commitment to innovation allows us to join in a collaborative effort that will have great benefit for this state. One of the exciting facets of public-private partnerships such as this one with Uber is to see University research engaged at the forefront of commercial and technological innovation. I am impressed with Uber’s vision and commitment to support discovery that will drive Arizona’s innovation and knowledge economy. I am grateful for Governor Ducey’s support for this partnership and for his leadership in helping to facilitate it. I look forward to the great things the partnership will do for our state and its people.

Business Insider has reached out to Uber for comment and will update this article when we hear back.

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