Uber's Volvo XC90

Uber launches AI lab to boost driverless car research

Image credit: rex features

Uber has created a new artificial intelligence research centre, dubbed AI Labs, that could boost its efforts to develop a self-driving taxi service.

To give itself a headstart, the company also announced it has bought the AI research start-up Geometric Intelligence, whose 15 members will form the initial core of the AI Labs team.

Uber has been trialling self-driving technology for some time, with a fledgling service using the technology launched earlier this year in Pittsburgh. 

“Uber is in the business of using technology to move people and things in the real world,” it said in a blog post. 

“With all of its complexity and uncertainty, negotiating the real world is a high-order intelligence problem.

“It manifests in myriad ways, from determining an optimal route to computing when your car or UberEATS order will arrive to matching riders for uberPOOL.

“It extends to teaching a self-driven machine to safely and autonomously navigate the world, whether a car on the roads or an aircraft through busy airspace or new types of robotic devices.”

The move sees Uber trying to find a path to profitability. Although it has grown aggressively in the years since it was founded, it is still heavily subsidising its fares and is largely relying on investor confidence and backing to fund its operations.

The firm reportedly lost more than $2bn (£1.6bn) last year, a figure that is likely to rise this year. But a fully driverless fleet could lower the cost of one of its largest outgoings: paying its drivers.

“In spite of notable wins with machine learning in recent years, we are still very much in the early innings of machine intelligence,” Uber said.

“The formation of Uber AI Labs, to be directed by Geometric’s founding CEO Gary Marcus, represents Uber’s commitment to advancing the state of the art, driven by our vision that moving people and things in the physical world can be radically faster, safer and accessible to all.”

In October the company showed a conceptual design for an electric flying car that could help reduce commute duration and tackle congestion in populated cities. 

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