Uber gives $5.5m to drive autonomous car development

Controversial ride-sharing app Uber has given Carnegie Mellon University $5.5 million to aid the development of driverless cars and robotics to improve Uber's customers' safety.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has received $5.5 million from Uber to support its new robotics faculty chair, as well as three fellowships at the university.

The "gift", as Uber CEO Travis Kalanick put it, has been given to CMU to help the university continue to attract "the world's best roboticists".

"We're pumped to be part of a growing innovation ecosystem in Pittsburgh that includes world leading research institutions and companies, as well as an increasing number of start-ups," Kalanick said in a blog post.

"CMU has proven the power of curiosity many times over with its groundbreaking research in computer science and robotics -- research that has made self-driving cars possible -- and we're passionate about our mission to make transportation as reliable as running water, for everyone everywhere."

University President Subra Suresh told campus press he is grateful for Uber's support of the intellectual work at the heart of the activity, praising the partnership between the two entities.

"Academia-industry partnerships play an important role in promoting our mutual missions of technological innovation and developing outstanding talent at all levels," he said.

Kalanick said the mutli-million dollar gift is part of the partnership with CMU that was announced earlier this year.

In February, Uber announced it was opening an Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, in partnership with CMU to focus on technology developments to improve customer safety.

At the time, Uber hinted that under its guidance, researchers at the university will seek to develop driverless cars, as well as technology around vehicle safety.

"The partnership will provide a forum for Uber technology leaders to work closely with CMU faculty, staff, and students -- both on campus and at the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) -- to do research and development, primarily in the areas of mapping and vehicle safety and autonomy technology," Uber said in a blog post.

In March, Uber bought California-based software mapping company deCarta in an effort to fine-tune its mapping technology. At the time, Uber said it planned to use deCarta to bolster its own products and services that rely on maps, such as UberPool and the way the company computes ETAs.

It was reported at the time the underlying reason behind the acquisition is so the ride-sharing giant can rely less on maps from Google and Apple, which it currently uses.

In May, Uber toyed with the idea of buying Nokia's 'Here' mapping unit, for approximately $4 billion. The ride-sharing app was reportedly going to team up with Chinese web giant Baidu for the acquisition, which was allegedly backed by equity firm Apax Partners.

Uber was beaten by Audi, BMW, and Daimler, who combined to purchase 'Here' maps for €2.8 billion at the beginning of August.

In June, Uber acquired Microsoft Bing's mapping assets, which included the cameras Microsoft used to collect mapping imagery data, a datacentre in Colorado, intellectual property, and roughly 100 engineers.

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