Uber partners with University of Arizona as it looks to advance its self-driving car projectBy Rob Thubron
Uber has announced that it will partner with the University of Arizona to develop mapping and optics technologies as the company expands its research of self-driving cars.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said in a statement that the deal will see Uber donating $25,000 to the university's College of Optical Sciences. He added that a number of the company's futuristic-looking mapping vehicles will take up permanent residence in the state. "It's in Arizona's best interest to embrace new technology. This is about economic growth. It means new jobs, new research opportunities here at the UofA," Ducey said.
Speaking about the deal, Uber's vice president of advanced technology, Brian McClendon, said: "We'll work with some of the leading experts in lens design here at the university to improve the imagery of what we capture and use to build out mapping and our safety features [...] I think the College of Optical Sciences is one of the leading in the world, and we are looking for improving the technologies that mapping and driverless vehicles are dependent on, and this is a great place to start,"
The move comes after Uber poached about 50 people from Carnegie Mellon University's robotics department when it formed a similar partnership with CMU several months ago. The ride-hailing company pilfered so many university staff to work on its self-driving car initiative that it was accused of effectively gutting competing, local projects. Nearly a third of the university's robotics researchers and engineers ended up moving around the corner to Uber's new facility that had been set up in a renovated chocolate factory.
Governor Ducey has been a vocal supporter of Uber since taking office in January. The Republican told state regulators they couldn't enforce rules that require Uber drivers to have commercial insurances and licenses, saying the policy was hampering job creation and stifling innovation. Ducey has said that Uber creates jobs and helps grow the economy, and the state should be helping it, not hindering it. The governor also signed an executive order supporting the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles on some public roads in Arizona.
A number of big tech and vehicle firms have been working on self-driving cars recently; Google unveiled the first finished prototype of its driverless car in December, and other companies such as Tesla, Mercedes-Benz and Audi are involved with similar projects. It's been reported that Apple also is working on a self-driving vehicle initiative, and is looking for a facility to test it.