Uber slow to grow its autonomous vehicle R&D center near Detroit

7 workers, 3 openings toward its goal of 120 Motor City workers

Uber is up and running in suburban Detroit, where it is slowly ramping up hiring to establish an autonomous vehicle research center to work alongside OEMs and auto suppliers, Autoblog has learned.

The ride-hailing company is currently publicizing job openings for an autonomous vehicle program manager, functional safety technical expert and a senior safety engineer for the research center, its first outpost in the Detroit area. The positions are part of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group, which also has teams in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Phoenix and Toronto.

Uber first announced its plans to open an autonomous vehicle research center in the far northwestern suburb of Wixom in January 2017 during the Detroit Auto Show. At the time, it said it planned to have the facility open by the end of March 2017 and hire up to 120 employees, but Debra Barker, Wixom's economic and community development director, said the company has been slow getting things up and running, remodeling an existing facility in an industrial park.

"There are currently seven employees that work out of the Wixom facility, and they are actively recruiting," Barker said in an email. "They are using a technical recruitment firm from Pittsburgh."

Uber did not respond to a request for comment. The San Francisco-based company is considered well behind the competition in deploying fleets of autonomous vehicles, and had a slow start back in 2016 in its hometown, temporarily moving its fleet of Volvo XC90s to Arizona after not getting proper authorization to test in California. Uber has been working on automated driving technology since 2015 and originally had planned to have self-driving cars in 20 cities by the end of 2018, 50 cities by 2019 and 150 cities by 2020, according to Reuters.

It should find ample opportunity to test out its software and prototypes in Michigan, where a law signed in late 2016 allows for the testing and use of fully autonomous cars, including platoons of self-driving trucks and networks of automated vehicles from ride-haling services including Uber, on public roads, leapfrogging other states. That prompted General Motors to quickly announce plans to test and build self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric cars in the state. A consortium of automakers and suppliers recently opened a 500-acre autonomous vehicle proving ground in Michigan, and Ford is also listing several job openings related to its work on driverless cars at its new Detroit office, where it plans to locate 220 employees to work on autonomous and electric vehicle business and strategies.

Daimler recently announced it will supply Mercedes-Benz vehicles for use in Uber's fleet of self-driving cars. Uber is also working with technology company Nvidia to procure AI computing systems for its fleet of self-driving taxis and freight trucks.

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