Uber drivers may soon be an endangered species. The ride-for-hire company is partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to create a new research facility in Pittsburgh that will focus on autonomous car technology, mapping and vehicle safety. That could pave the way for Uber to eventually have its own fleet of self-driving cars for hire. The Uber Advanced Technologies Center will be located near the university's campus. "This collaboration and the creation of the Uber Advanced Technologies Center represent an important investment in building for the long term of Uber," Jeff Holden, Uber chief product officer, said in a statement.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has spoken in the past about the company's interest in driverless cars, citing "the other dude in the car" as the most expensive part of the service. By removing the driver, Uber can make rides cheaper and streamline operations, saving money and avoiding the occasional high-profile embarrassment of incompetent or predatory drivers making headlines.
Uber faces serious competition in the autonomous vehicle field from other research facilities and car companies, but perhaps most immediately from Google, which has invested an enormous amount of time and money into its own vehicles. This could create friction, since Google is also a major investor in Uber — and if that wasn't enough, Bloomberg reported Monday that the Internet giant may be preparing a ride-hiring service of its own.