Earlier Reports of Uber-Carnegie Mellon Driverless Vehicle Partnership a ‘Misconception’

The two research giants continue to work separately and blocks apart in Lawrenceville, Pa., the university at the robotics center and Uber at its Advanced Technologies Center.

by Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / June 6, 2016
Uber's self-driving car Uber

(TNS) -- Sixteen months ago, Uber announced a joint venture with Carnegie Mellon University to speed along the development of a self-driving vehicle, creating what a university official called “a great new partnership.”

Since then, the San Francisco-based ride-sharing company has hired about 40 researchers who had been at CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center, and it donated $5 million in September to the university to fund a new faculty chair and three faculty fellowships.

But the two research giants continue to work separately and blocks apart in Lawrenceville, the university at the robotics center and Uber at its Advanced Technologies Center.

“Essentially, [the joint venture] just didn’t happen,” said Byron Spice, a spokesman for the School of Computer Science, calling it a “misconception” the two groups had been doing joint research.

“They gave us funding, but we aren’t doing any research together. As it worked out, the decision was made that would be the extent of it at this point.”

Uber wouldn’t comment on the lack of joint research with CMU or the future of their relationship.

“We’re very pleased to be in Pittsburgh and continue to be excited about our ongoing collaboration with CMU,” the company said in a statement.

On Wednesday, PennDOT announced formation of a task force to oversee safe development of self-driving vehicles that includes representatives from the university and Uber as well as other civic and industry leaders. The lack of a joint venture between CMU and Uber had nothing to do with the formation of the task force, PennDOT said.

“The purpose of the task force is not specific to CMU or Uber, but was in fact created to address opportunities and challenges that have emerged with the evolution of autonomous vehicle technology,” PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said in a statement.

“Equally as important, the task force will balance these objectives with PennDOT’s core mission focused on safety. That balance will be a common thread through all of the task force discussions.”

The possible development of a self-driving vehicle and potential production of the technology needed to produce it are key elements of Pittsburgh’s bid for a $50 million Smart City grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, said the lack of joint research isn’t a problem, and the process of developing the city’s wide-ranging application has brought together a number of diverse groups that hadn’t collaborated before.

Mr. Spice said the lack of joint research or criticism from some quarters about Uber hiring away university researchers are not indications that there is animosity between the two groups.

“We’re happy Uber is here,” he said. “It’s a great thing for the city. It’s a great thing for us. They are doing their thing, we’re doing our thing, but that doesn’t mean we won’t do things together in the future.”

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