Even though Uber’s self-driving efforts in the United States might have hit a massive snag, the ride-hailing giant is still planning to put a foot forward with its ongoing plans. It has now decided to set up another Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) office, but this one is being set up outside the country.

As announced today, a new R&D center is coming up in Toronto and will be spearheaded by local AI researcher Raquel Urtasun. The said ATG office won’t be focusing on the development of cameras, sensors or outfitting the vehicles themselves. Instead, the team led by Urtasun will be working on the software aspects of the system i.e artificial intelligence and machine learning. This means the said research won’t exactly muddle with the existing hardware developed at the U.S ATG office. I hope, you know why! (ahem…Waymo!)

As for Raquel Urtasun, she is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto. Further, just read more about her prominence in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Fascinated with machine learning, and computer vision from quite some time, she has been named as the Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning and Computer Vision.

She has also received two Google faculty awards. An Early Career award, as well as the best paper award at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference, also adds to her hat loaded with achievement feathers. This is because Urtasun is the world leading expert in machine perception for self-driving cars. This is the core technology which helps autonomous vehicles see and understand their surroundings — distinguish between human and trees or children or road cones.

Commenting on her new role, Urtasun said,

Doing research in self-driving cars, there is only so much you can do in an academic environment. You really need an industry partner that has resources to really make the difference.

Since the first time that I visited ATG, I really loved the team. And they’re fantastic individuals doing great work, and there was a lot of synergies. There’s also the commitment to those kinds of things that we’re doing in Toronto, and that was was a factor in the decision.

This is a significant development for the ride-hailing giant, who has been embroiled in a patent infringement battle against Google’s spin-off self-driving division Waymo. The latter has accused the former of building its self-driving sensors based on their technology that was brought to Uber by former Googler Anthony Levandowski.

He was leading the ride-hailing giant’s ATG in the United States but has stepped down from his position for alleged confidential data theft charges — that too about 14,000 filed or total 9.7GB. Now, it’s trying to block Uber’s present self-driving efforts — which haven’t been going according to plan. The federal judge has heard both sides but a conclusive decision is yet to be reached.

The appointment of Urtasun at the helm of the company’s self-driving efforts in Toronto reiterates their commitment to driverless autonomy. It has bolstered its commitment to the technology by adding another influential figure to the already strong team that is full of top AI researchers. Uber went outside the confines of U.S to look for academia/talent and they’ve hit the gold mine. Urtasun has already brought on an additional eight students and post-docs from the University of Toronto to join her team.

While Urtasun is joining Uber to lead its self-driving efforts, but she plans to keep in touch with her academic work and her teaching schedule at the University of Toronto. She will also be donating a chunk of her time to the Vector Institute but working with further enable her to contribute to the development of self-driving vehicles. The students, on the other hand, will continue their Ph.D. while working at the ATG research center.

Uber is not only appending the R&D of its own AI technologies at the ATG offices but is contributing to Toronto’s efforts as a whole. Thus, it has pledged to donate $5 million to the Vector Institute over the next coming years. It is a non-profit research institute co-founded by Raquel Urtasun for further development of the country’s artificial intelligence efforts. Meric Gertler, the President of the University of Toronto also comments on this opportunity:

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.

We are equally pleased that she will remain a professor at the University, continuing to support the University and the Vector Institute while promoting Toronto as the primary destination in the world for the best researchers in this fast-growing and critical field.

Sources: TechCrunch, Business Insider

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