Uber to develop self-driving cars, butting heads with Google

The companies look set to become rivals, with Google reportedly building a ride-hailing app

Uber's mobile app.
Uber's mobile app.

Uber is joining forces with Carnegie Mellon University to open a research center that will develop self-driving cars, expanding its business in a new direction and opening a potential rift with Google.

The Uber Advanced Technologies Center, near the CMU campus, will do work primarily on mapping, vehicle safety and "autonomy technology," Uber said Monday.

The technologies should advance Uber's mission of bringing "safe, reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere," the company said.

It may also spark a battle with Google, which already develops self-driving cars and recently started work on its own ride-hailing app that will compete with Uber's, according to a Bloomberg report Monday, which cited one unnamed source.

With competing projects under way, friction between the companies could be brewing. And as Bloomberg notes, that could be bad news for Uber. The company's service is built on Google Maps, and if Uber were to lose access to the software it could be left with a less desirable alternative like Apple Maps or Yahoo Maps.

Google declined to comment on the idea it was developing its own ride-hailing service. It downplayed the idea in a tweet directed at Bloomberg which read: "We think you'll find Uber and Lyft work quite well. We use them all the time."

As for Uber's autonomous vehicles, it didn't give a timeline for when its R&D projects might be ready for commercial use. Google has said the public could be using its self-driving cars in two to five years.

Uber's partnership with CMU will create a forum for it to work with the university's faculty, staff and students, it said, both on campus and at CMU's National Robotics Engineering Center.

The agreement includes funding from Uber for faculty chairs and graduate fellowships, the company said. It has already hired more than 50 scientists from CMU and the robotics center, according to a report in TechCrunch.

It's the latest example of an online company partnering closely with academics to work on advanced technologies. Google, Facebook and Microsoft have all been hiring leading academics to work on fields like artificial intelligence, robotics and computer vision.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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