Uber Hires AI Expert For First Foreign Self-Driving Center

Uber is opening a new office of its Advanced Technologies Group in Toronto, its first ever self-driving center outside of the United States, and that office will be led by local machine learning expert Raquel Urtasun. Urtasun is a prominent AI researcher in Canada, a professor at the University of Toronto, and holds the position of an official Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning and Computer Vision. Her work at Uber will be primarily focused on systems for self-driving cars, but she will also lead and contribute to other ATG projects as needed, especially those originating from the Toronto-based office that she will be leading.

Alongside the new hire, Uber announced that they will be providing ongoing contributions to the Vector Institute, a recently established government-funded initiative built alongside big names like Google. The Vector Institute's work will focus on AI research that should consequently benefit self-driving technologies. Urtasun is a founding member of the Vector Institute, which she admitted was a part of her decision to join ATG that was finalized after she visited the company's U.S. office. Urtasun's hiring and the expansion of Uber's ATG into Canada bring direct benefit to the region in the form of faster self-driving advancements and jobs, but should also help advance this emerging technology on a global level.

Urtasun said that joining with Uber will not keep her from her current work, as she plans to continue teaching at the University of Toronto and finding time to participate in and contribute to the Vector Institute's research. She claimed that she was happy enough with her work in the field thus far, but that everyone will eventually hit a wall with researching AI and self-driving systems unless they have the backing of a company with the kind of money and manpower that can help bring their research out into the real world. The hiring of Urtasun comes shortly after Uber's top engineer Raffi Krikorian left the company and its self-driving lead Anthony Levandowski stepped down amidst allegations that he stole LiDAR designs used by Uber from Waymo. An update on the company's self-driving endeavors is expected to follow soon.

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