A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

May 9, 2017

Old Habits? Uber Funds Canadian AI As It Fights US Self-Driving Lawsuit

Not that its competitors haven't noticed, but Uber will always try to find a way around - or through - an obstacle rather than acknowledge that its strategy and culture may be the problem. JL

Alan Ohnsman reports in Forbes:

Uber has created a new research unit in Toronto with plans to employ dozens of engineers there to focus on developing artificial intelligence for driverless vehicles, as its legal fight with Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo over the alleged theft of Google technology drags on. Waymo is seeking an injunction that would halt Uber’s research efforts as well as unspecified damages.
Uber has created a new research unit in Toronto with plans to employ dozens of engineers there to focus on developing artificial intelligence for driverless vehicles, as its legal fight with Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo over the alleged theft of Google technology drags on.
The Canadian team will be led by Raquel Urtasun, an associate professor at the University of Toronto and its Canada Research Chair in machine learning and computer science. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in a blog post on Monday described Urtasun as “one of the world’s leading researchers in the fields of machine perception and artificial intelligence.”
The Toronto team will work on creating object-recognition software that’s necessary for driverless cars to operate as safely as possible. The new lab is the company's first R&D operation outside the U.S. and is a branch of its Advanced Technologies Group in Pittsburgh, or ATG, where testing of early versions of its autonomous vehicle system began last year. The company also deploys experimental vehicles in San Francisco and Arizona, though Urtasun declined to confirm whether Canada would become another test center  for the technology.
"At this point we don’t have anything to announce with respect to test cars coming into Toronto," she told Forbes. Along with eight of Urtasun's University of Toronto students, “the idea is to hire dozens of people,” she said, without elaborating. Urtasun also declined to provide details on the lab’s budget.
“The idea really is not to be an isolated lab, but joining together the three labs,” including Pittsburgh and San Francisco research efforts, she said. Toronto's focus will be “perception, localization and mapping.”
The addition of the Canadian research arm underscores Uber’s intent to perfect autonomous vehicle systems as rapidly as possible.
“While there’s still a lot of work to be done, we believe that the combination of our global ridesharing network with the cutting-edge software and hardware being built by our teams will make this vision a reality—and we couldn’t be more excited about what’s next,” Kalanick said.
The announcement also comes as the case filed against Uber in federal court in San Francisco by Waymo gradually unfolds.
The unit set up last to commercialize Google’s self-driving car hardware and software sued Uber and its Otto commercial vehicle unit in February, claiming former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski took trade secrets related to LiDAR sensor technology with him to Uber. Waymo is seeking an injunction that would, at least temporarily, halt Uber’s research efforts as well as unspecified damages.
Uber has denied the allegations and says it isn’t using any Google technology.
Levandowski founded Otto last year, shortly after collecting bonuses from Google worth more than $120 million, according to court filings. Otto, which was set up to develop technology for automated semi trucks, was bought by Uber for an estimated $680 million in August, and Levandowski was put in charge of its autonomous vehicle research.
Although he remains part of Uber’s self-driving car team, Levandowski stepped down as head of the Advanced Technologies Group in April, and specifically no longer does any work related to laser-LiDAR development, according to Uber. Eric Meyhofer now leads the ATG, while Levandowski’s responsibilities are limited to operations, software and other parts of ATG don't directly deal with LiDAR, a company spokeswoman said.
U.S. District Judge William is weighing the evidence and arguments presented in court by Waymo and Uber last week on whether to grant an injunction against Uber. He also has to determine whether the matter will go to trial, as sought by Waymo, or to allow it to be handled in private arbitration. The next hearing scheduled for the case is set for May 18.

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