Researchers and scientists from Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) were poached by Uber earlier this year to staff the ridesharing company’s new Pittsburgh-based tech center, which is aiming to build and create driverless cars that could someday replace its many drivers.
The world’s top robotic research institute was left in crisis mode due to the raid. A source, whose name remains anonymous and who was present during the mass exits, told the Verge:
“[Uber] took all the guys that were working on vehicle autonomy — basically whole groups, whole teams of developers, commercialization specialists, all the guys that find grants and who were bringing the intellectual property. These guys, they took everybody.“
The gutting of NREC reveals how competitive the field is in developing self-driving cars, with the winner being first in the market to have or sell them. Google is currently developing its own autonomous car while Tesla is looking to make sedans that use an autopilot feature to drive themselves on highways.
Uber had no in-house program to develop an autonomous car. After raising an astounding $5 billion from investors, Uber created its own research firm by offering some NREC scientists bonuses of hundreds of thousands of dollars and a doubling of salaries so that they would jump ship to the San Francisco-based company. The strategy worked.