Carnegie Mellon University and Uber Technologies started a strategic partnership in February of this year in order to develop driverless-car technology. However, the partnership is on shaky ground now that Uber has lifted more than 40 employees from the robotics lab in a wave of hiring.
Uber made an unethical move? Uber Technologies Inc. was flush with cash after raising more than $5 billion from investors. They put it to use by offering double salaries to many of Carnegie Mellon University staff members, luring them from the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) to their new tech center in Pittsburgh. Uber has declined to comment on the rumors that bonuses of hundreds of thousands of dollars were involved in enticing experts to move.
In response, the newly appointed director of NREC made a presentation in May that outlined the situation as well as the problems that the lab is facing. Key directors watched the presentation, which summarized that before Uber’s recruiting push there were more than 100 engineers and scientists at the facility working on technology for corporations and the U.S. military.
Now, funding may be gone, too. Due to the losses, the NREC expects that their contract funds from the U.S. Department of Defense and other organizations would be shrinking by $13 million in the coming year. When the scientists associated with many of the contracts left, the opportunity for funding left as well.
Uber and Carnegie Mellon have yet to begin working together on the joint project. Although driverless car technology is being sought out by many companies, the NREC’s main partnership for autonomous vehicle driving technology remains with General Motors Co.
Uber’s lead recruiter John Bares ran Carnegie Mellon’s NREC from 1997 to 2010, and now is head Uber’s tech center in Pittsburgh – less than a mile from the NREC. The 53,000 square foot tech center will be closed to the public when it opens, and Uber is continuing to court graduate students from Carnegie Mellon and other nearby schools.