NOVI, MI – Car-hailing service Uber, which just last week launched an autonomous-automobile fleet in Pittsburgh, says it will set up an R&D center in Detroit to further development of self-driving vehicles and other advanced technology.
Sherif Marakby, a former Ford engineer of 25 years who joined Uber in April as its vice president-global vehicle programs, announces the Detroit plan in a keynote speech here to the SAE 2016 Convergence conference and exhibition centered on automotive electronics.
Uber still is finalizing a decision on exactly where to locate the Detroit operation, but Marakby says the center should open in the next few months.
The decision to set up R&D in Detroit is a recent one for Uber, he says, admitting he has been a key advocate of the move since joining the firm six months ago.
“Uber wants to be collaborative with auto companies and Tier 1 suppliers,” Marakby says, ensuring the audience the company does not want to get into the car-building business. “We see (the autonomous-vehicle future) as a collaboration that is essential for success. So we will continue to be open to working with Tier 1s and car companies.”
The new operation will be an additional investment in vehicle engineering for Uber, which currently has development operations in Pittsburgh. Some of the Pittsburgh staff will transfer to the Detroit operation, Marakby says, but he also sees the new center drawing on “the critical mass” of local talent.
“We already have been hiring talent from Detroit (for the Pittsburgh center),” he says, adding that Uber will be looking for engineers, program managers and purchasing and administrative staff for the Detroit office. It’s unclear how many jobs will be created initially, with Marakby saying, “We’ll be flexible on the number of people.”
Uber’s autonomous-vehicle fleet-test program in Pittsburgh is under way with 20 self-driving Ford Fusions, but Marakby says the plan is to increase that fleet to 100 vehicles by the end of the year. Uber also is working with Volvo on a fleet of self-driving XC90 plug-in-hybrid CUVs for the Pittsburgh test.
Marakby doesn’t rule out a similar program in Michigan as part of Uber’s move to set up engineering in Detroit, saying the service is considering a number of states for future self-driving tests.
Uber sees autonomous vehicles as a good solution to solving one of its biggest problems: the lack of drivers to meet demand. “It’s one of our biggest challenges,” Marakby says, noting Uber drivers already travel 1.2 million miles per month globally. “There’s definitely a supply problem.”
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