Uber Going To Toronto Artificial Intelligence Center As Waymo Suit Hovers

Uber will be establishing a new artificial intelligence (AI) team in Toronto to improve its autonomous vehicle software and to stabilize its presence in the automated mobility sector.

The ride-hailing giant will be collaborating with an AI university research center as it plows through a convoluted legal battle with Waymo over allegations Uber stole technology from Google’s self-driving car division.

The Toronto office will be led by professor Raquel Urtasun, who’s considered to be an expert in AI and specializes in machine learning and computer vision at the University of Toronto.

Part of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, the company will establish an AI center while also contributing $5 million in the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence. The institute is a nonprofit organization affiliated with the university.

The city of Toronto and the university have been concerned with seeing many talented people leave Canada for jobs in the U.S. That inspired creation of the MaRS Discovery District, an incubator for attracting established companies and investments in Canadian startups. Uber will be placing its AI offices in that district.

“The University of Toronto has long been considered a global leader in artificial intelligence research. That’s why we’re so pleased to see Professor Raquel Urtasun, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of machine perception, take on this incredibly exciting role,” said Meric Gertler, president of the University of Toronto.

Uber and Waymo are anxiously awaiting a ruling by Judge William Alsup over a potential preliminary injunction, which could happen as soon as next week against Uber’s autonomous vehicle program.

Waymo claims its former employee, Anthony Levandowski, stole thousands of files while he was working there and then brought them to Uber.

Uber dismisses Waymo’s claims, calling the case “a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor.”

The judge’s ruling could be limited to Waymo’s lidar system, which would be outside Urtasun’s software-centered research.

The Toronto processor will work with Uber on software that better provides autonomous vehicles to perceive the world around them. Precision needs to be improved to accurately assess necessary details for safe driving such as the color of a stoplight or if a traffic cop is waving the car by or ordering it to stop.

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In spring 2016, Uber ended a similar relationship with Carnegie Mellon University. About a year earlier, the company had announced a research agreement with the university well known for expertise in self-driving vehicles. Later, Uber hired away four of the university’s faculty and 36 researchers and technicians to assist in a Pittsburgh autonomous technology test project.

The ride-hailing firm had previously provided the Pittsburgh-based university with a $5.5 million gift to support its efforts in AI research.

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