Uber to build robotics factory in Pittsburgh

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Uber, the connected car hire/taxi service, has announced that it’s planning to build a new robotics development facility in Pittsburgh, where it will team up with the local Carnegie Mellon University – the same one that helped develop autonomous software for the Opportunity Mars rover – to co-develop driverless vehicles. We already know Google is planning to push its own pod cars into taxi servitude before long and considering that would cut right into Uber’s business plan, it’s no wonder that it’s hoping to stake its own claim on the potential goldmine of an industry.

As TechCrunch reports, Uber is also said to have essentially “cleaned out,” the local National Robotics Engineering Centre to help staff its new facility. This means that Uber is putting untold millions into this project, bizarrely, some of which must have come from its main rival in this space, Google. The search giant famously invested the best part of a billion dollars in the company over several rounds of funding during the past few years. With that in mind though, some have speculated that Google essentially bought its way onto the company’s board in order to learn how the business worked so it could then compete directly with it in the future. It’s still unknown whether Google’s staffer that sits on the Uber board will be asked to step down in the wake of this new competition between the two companies.

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“We are excited to join the community of Pittsburgh and partner with the experts at CMU, whose breadth and depth of technical expertise, particularly in robotics, are unmatched,” said Uber’s Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden in a blog post. “As a global leader in urban transportation, we have the unique opportunity to invest in leading edge technologies to enable the safe and efficient movement of people and things at giant scale. This collaboration and the creation of the Uber Advanced Technologies Center represent an important investment in building for the long term of Uber.”

Regardless of the fact that Uber has cleared out the staff of the National Robotics lab, the mayor of Pittsburgh, William Peduto, seems very pleased with the move. Not surprising perhaps, considering it’s suggested that Uber’s construction and development work could lead to millions of investment dollars in the city, as well as lucrative contracts for local workers.

“I am pleased to welcome Uber to the growing list of leading technology companies that are coming to Pittsburgh to help invent the future,” he said. “This is yet another case where collaboration between the city and its universities is creating opportunities for job growth and community development.”

As of yet, though Uber and the University have confirmed the partnership, there’s no mention of when exactly we can expect the facility to begin being built or developed. When it does begin however, chances are it will progress quickly, as Uber has recently raised equity to the tune of $4 billion, giving it plenty of money to play with. The company is currently valued at $41 billion, despite having been founded less than a decade ago.

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.