Ride-sharing service Uber is partnering with Carnegie Mellon University on a Pittsburgh research lab both hope could lead to the development of driverless cars.
Carnegie Mellon and its Robotics Institute have been working on driverless vehicles for years, and its work is part of the reason the city has successfully segued from an industry-driven economy to one based on technology and medicine in the last 20 years, with the nearby University of Pittsburgh Medical Center pioneering transplant medicine and other breakthroughs.
The Uber-Carnegie Mellon deal is "another case where collaboration between the city and its universities is creating opportunities for job growth and community development," Mayor Bill Peduto said
The partnership announced Monday includes Uber funding for faculty chairs and graduate fellowships at the private research university.
San Francisco-based Uber said the Uber Advanced Technologies Center will also focus on mapping and safety technologies in support of its ride-sharing mission.
The lab to be built near CMU's National Robotics Engineering Center will occupy part of two buildings, including a former chocolate factory.
"Carnegie Mellon has been working very hard over the last few years, developing direct relationships with the absolute top companies in technology and science," said Andrew Moore, dean of the university's School of Computer Science. "So it's not surprising that we tend to bump into each other."
Carnegie Mellon has partnered with search engine giant Google, which opened offices in the city in 2006, and in 2007 won a $2 million prize by helping General Motors develop a driverless SUV that won a 60-mile race sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
"We said, 'Hey, who are the best in the world at this from an academics standpoint and bringing this kind of technology into the real world?'" said Jeff Holden, Uber's chief product officer. "And CMU is at the top of that list. So that's what started it and why we reached out."
Uber operates in 200 cities in 54 countries, including Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. Last week, the state Public Utility Commission granted Uber a two-year experimental license to operate everywhere in Pennsylvania, except Philadelphia. The company still operates there, despite not having approval for its service, which lets passengers use smartphone apps to hail rides from drivers who use their own vehicles.
The CMU partnership is just the latest to raise the city's profile as a technology center.
"After so many years of being 'Robo-Burg' we're getting attention," said Audrey Russo, president and chief executive officer of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. "It's a great opportunity."