As it continues to fight a legal battle against Waymo over self-driving car tech, Uber is devoting more research into artificial intelligence to improve the software that controls its autonomous cars.
The ride-sharing company is building a new Toronto-based team to work on AI for self-driving cars, reports Bloomberg. The team will be part of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group, which oversees much of the company's autonomous driving tech. It will be led by Raquel Urtasun, an expert in machine learning and computer vision at the University of Toronto.
Uber's AI team will be housed at the MaRS Discovery District, a project undertaken by the city of Toronto to attract investment from tech companies, and to encourage local researchers to stay in the city. In attracting Uber's AI initiative, the project seems to have achieved its goal. Urtasun will stay in Canada rather than relocating to one of Uber's U.S. facility, and Uber will also invest $5 million in the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a non-profit group affiliated with the University of Toronto.
Urtasun will work on Uber's self-driving car software, helping it adapt to the environment more easily. The exact nature of the software controlling autonomous cars has become a major issue, as companies grapple with how to make control systems as flexible as old-fashioned human brains. Toyota plans to invest millions of dollars into AI development for autonomous cars, although so far, researchers haven't come up with anything resembling what most people think of when they hear the term AI—i.e. a machine with the seamless analytical abilities of a human brain.
The fact that Urtasun is a woman may also prove significant, as Uber continues to address accusations of normalized sexual harassment made by a female former engineer in February. The company hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to help with an internal investigation of the issue. Like most tech companies, Uber's staff is overwhelmingly male.
As Uber sets up its Toronto AI team, it still faces a lawsuit from Waymo accusing it of using stolen self-driving car secrets. Anthony Levandowski allegedly downloaded 14,000 files from Waymo while he was an employee. Waymo accuses him of using that information at his startup, Otto, and then passing it on to Uber when the larger company bought Otto last year. Waymo is seeking an injunction that would force Uber to shut down its self-driving car program.