Uber is setting up shop in Detroit, with plans to build another self-driving vehicle facility in the capital of the U.S. auto industry.
Uber has not disclosed the exact nature of the facility, nor its location and size, but early indications are that it could be similar to its Advanced Technologies Campus in Pittsburgh, where the company has rolled out its first test fleet of self-driving, human-manned vehicles.
Uber’s decision to open a facility in the Motor City has both practical value — the company will be at the center of the auto industry’s supply chain and talent pool — and symbolic value; the center will help Uber cement its transformation from an upstart to Silicon Valley company to one spearheading the technological revolution in the auto industry.
As Sherif Marakby, Uber’s vice president of global vehicle programs, who formerly worked for Ford, put it an automotive conference earlier this week:
“Detroit is where the automotive industry has really developed — very, very strong talent base; very strong companies — and Uber wants to be part of that.”
Markaby maintained that Uber has no intention of becoming an automaker in its own right; rather the new facility would allow the company to strengthen its collaborations with existing automakers. The test fleet in Pittsburgh consists of modified Ford Focus cars; Uber also has a fleet of Volvo SUVs equipped for autonomous driving.
Markaby suggested that Detroit, like Pittsburgh, could become a living laboratory for its self-driving vehicles. But deploying the vehicles on public streets will depend on legislation currently being debated by Michigan lawmakers.
“We’re very much working with the state on that. We hope it’s going to be a positive result,” Markaby told the Detroit News.
Uber’s autonomous vehicle facility will be in good company in the Detroit area. Ford is expected to begin offering rides in self-driving cars to employees at its Dearborn campus. And Google is a partnering with Fiat Chrysler to create a fleet of 100 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans.
Uber’s R&D program will soon span the United States, with additional facilities planned in San Francisco and a partnership with the University of Arizona, according to The Verge.
Meanwhile, Lyft, Uber’s main domestic rival in the Uber’s ride-hailing business, is testing driverless cars in San Francisco and Phoenix.