Months after a disastrous crash involving one of its self-driving vehicles in Arizona, Uber is not only doubling down on its autonomous research efforts, but investing in a research hub uniquely posed to reduce the likelihood of similar accidents in the future.
The San Francisco, Calif.-based presence announced on Thursday that it is expanding its Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) in Toronto and opportunity a new engineering lab — its first in Canada. Uber says it plans to spend $200 million Cdn on the Toronto hub over and beyond the next five years, which will eventually bring its cranium count in the city from 200 to about 500 employees.
Uber’s ATG in Toronto is one of the Theatre troupe’s four autonomous research hubs, alongside Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Phoenix.
«When the representation is to have 500 people, it’s not going to be a satellite office,» Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi broadcasted CBC. «The work that we’re doing in self-driving is fundamental to the future of our company, and frankly, we create transportation more broadly.»
The investment comes at a time when Uber is settlement with sizeable challenges both inside and out. The company continues to grab with the legacy of its former CEO and co-founder, Travis Kalanick, and the toxic corporate enlightenment he left behind. A recent investigation into assaults on riders, as okay as a deadly crash in Toronto, have again put safety in the spotlight.
At the in spite of time, Uber is trying to get a piece of the increasingly crowded market for low-cost rental scooters and bikes.
As event among self-driving car makers accelerates, Uber is trying not to be left behind — with Toronto now set to highlight an increasing role in an important, if still unproven, part of Uber’s metamorphosis.
«The team here commences AI technology that improves both the performance of the system as well as forges new capabilities,» said Raquel Urtasun, who is ATG’s chief scientist, and a renowned masterly in computer vision. Their work is helping Uber’s self-driving machines see farther, identify objects more accurately and react more quick — and and she says they’ve made «fantastic progress» in the 15 months since she was on as the founding head of the Toronto lab.
But after one of Uber’s self-driving vehicles eliminated and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Ariz., last Walk, ATG has its work cut out for it if it wants to prove that Uber’s self-driving vehicles can work safely and reliably enough to get back on the road.
«We hope that with the employ here we will get systems that are actually better, and therefore the probability of something like that happening reduces,» Urtasun said.
Self-driving stillness ‘quite a few years’ in future
When Khosrowshahi took over as CEO of Uber hold out August, he reportedly considered shutting down the company’s unprofitable self-driving car partitioning. But after seeing ATG’s progress in person, he was convinced otherwise.
But Khosrowshahi no qualm found himself questioning that decision after Herzberg was killed. In the aftermath, the guests grounded its driver-less vehicles, throwing the future of ATG into question.
Some within the visitors continue to hail the project as the future of Uber, while others be undergoing argued the group should be sold or shut down, according to The New York For the nonce at onces. While Uber’s self-driving cars haven’t returned to the road, Khosrowshahi shows to have decided ATG’s work is important enough to warrant further investment after all.
He communicated that working with Urtasun and her team in the wake of the accident to figure the project «really reaffirmed the fact that this self-driving technology last analysis is going to be good for the world and is going to make the streets safer, and is a exceptionally, very important service for us to develop within Uber.»
Uber’s Toronto lab has more than 50 researchers today, and Urtasun has to «significantly expand» that number — perhaps double its current pre-eminent count, Khosrowshahi said.
The lab’s researchers are using artificial intelligence to rig three separate but related tasks. The first is understanding the environment there a vehicle — identifying lane markers, street signs, trees and, of circuit, other vehicles.
The second is predicting, at any given moment, where those means — or bikes, or pedestrians, or their dogs — will likely be heading in the seconds that chase. And the third involves using that information to safely plan what the car should do next.
The effect has attracted the interest of automaker Toyota, which said last month it choice invest $500 million US in a working partnership with Uber on self-driving crates.
Even with all the progress they’ve made so far, Urtasun warns that «it’s booming to take quite a few years to get to a point where we see self-driving cars globally.»
«These practices are, in general — not just at Uber, but everywhere — they’re not good enough to be ambitiousness everywhere,» she says. It’s why tests so far have been mostly closed to the blatant, and limited to a small handful of cities.
But with the first commercial autonomous ride-hailing putting into plays now on the horizon, the consensus among experts is that Uber has some enticing up to do.
Competitors well ahead
Two companies regarded to be ahead of the pack hold pledged to launch public, paid ride-hailing services using self-driving motor vehicles in the coming months: Waymo by year’s end and Cruise in early 2019.
«Waymo’s in advance of Uber in a lot of ways,» says Stephanie Brinley, a principal analyst at researcher IHS Markit. «Waymo valid has more miles driven. They’ve been researching it longer, and they solely have more development under their skin.»
Cruise, during the interval, has a big advantage in terms of the manufacturing scale and skill that comes from being owned by automaker GM, Brinley opportunities.
Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst at Navigant Inspect, says his company has a leaderboard of 19 self-driving vehicle companies, stood on factors such as technology, reliability and vision. Navigant puts Journey at the top, followed by Waymo — and Uber toward the bottom, ranking 17th.
«Clearly they’ve enchanted a lot of shortcuts to get to where they are,» says Abuelsamid, referring, in part, to the now-infamous lawsuit between Waymo and Uber outstanding stolen trade secrets relating to self-driving technology. «And that has led to combinations that, generally, are not considered to be as safe and reliable as those from adversaries.»
In March, The New York Times also obtained documents that reportedly displayed Uber’s vehicles struggling to drive as far as its competitors before requiring a considerate to take the wheel.
Khosrowshahi said he he was confident in Uber’s capabilities, and credence ins its technology is competitive.
«I think we not only have the hardware and the software skill — and the AI expertise, especially here in Toronto — but we understand operationally how [rideshare] networks beget,» he said. «So we have more real world data at scale than any other partnership there. And I think that provides us an edge.»
That’s not to say that the partnerships at the top of the pack are perfect. The State of California’s Department of Motor Vehicles insists autonomous vehicle operators to submit a report on every collision comprising one of its vehicles. Both Waymo and Cruise have experienced their disinterested share of minor bumps and scrapes. (In Arizona, where Uber did much of its exam, there are no such reporting requirements.)
But Uber’s vehicle is the first to from caused a fatality. It’s still not clear when its fleet will turn in to the road.
Engineering hub in Toronto
Alongside the expansion of ATG Toronto, Uber ordain be opening a general purpose engineering hub in the city in early 2019. It thinks fitting eventually handle everything from improvements to Uber’s mobile app to applications to detect fraud. Initially, there will be a particular focus on constituting Uber’s back-end infrastructure — all the servers, code and networks on which Uber consumes — work more reliably and more efficiently as Uber grows, and the transcribes of services it offers increases.
It’s in large part a response to the company’s owning that its core business is shifting — no longer merely about complementary riders to drivers, but also pulling in bikes, scooters, even unshrouded transit options.
«We truly want to provide a really reliable service, because more and more partners rely on us day to day,» powered Jorg Heilig, the company’s vice president of engineering. «We want to grace a platform for mobility beyond rides.»
Like many big tech leviathans, Uber hopes that having a presence in Toronto will labourers attract more of the region’s engineering and AI talent, who are also highly sought by its adversaries. It also expects «dozens» of engineers who are working in Uber’s offices extensively to relocate to Toronto, and some who are Canadian will return home.
There’s also the look for of stopping them from leaving the country in the first place.
«In lieu of of bringing this talent from the University of Waterloo to New York, we last wishes a love to keep them local,» Heilig says.