The world of self-driving cars is getting pretty competitive.
We’ll start seeing Google’s self-driving cars being tested on roads from this summer, with the company hoping to have one ready for public release by 2020. Tesla is also adding an ‘autopilot’ feature so drivers can take their hands off the wheel on highwayslater this year.
Meanwhile, Uber made its play by attracting staff from Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, a report from The Verge says.
People — mainly software developers at first — started leaving CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Centre (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 commercialisation specialists, and Anthony Stentz, the centre’s director for the past four and a half years.
Attracting new projects to NREC usually means proving that they can be made commercially viable, The Verge’s report points out, since projects normally come to the department from external clients — like commercial companies, NASA and the military. They pay for the research NREC does and are left with a proof of concept, which they can use to produce a product on a larger scale.
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.
As part of the deal, The Verge reports, those moving to Uber have still been able to work on wrapping up old, NREC projects.
“The work of these employees is very incestuous and loose,” an NREC insider told The Verge. “They are given free rein of the facilities as part-time CMU employees, but there are absolutely no checks on the work that they are doing or what [intellectual property] they are taking. Is it for CMU? Is it for Uber? None of us here know.”
Uber’s self-driving car facility is growing quickly, and the company plans to move into a 53,000 square foot facility about a mile down the road from their current quarters by the end of this year.
With the competition in self-driving cars heating up, it makes sense the company would pick CMU as a partner, which has designed several automated vehicles to compete in DARPA challenges.
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