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How Pittsburgh became the heart of Uber's self-driving revolution

Stashed in: Awesome, History of Tech!, Uber, AI, Self-driving Cars, My Cold Dead Fingers, Uber, Artificial Intelligence

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Necessary but not sufficient piece on how CMU became the centerpiece of Pittsburgh's new role as the leader in autonomous vehicle technology. Also need to understand the facts from this Richard Florida tweetstorm:

It's also noteworthy that the CMU researchers chose to work for Uber instead of Google and/or Tesla. 

But the university was able to wall itself off, to survive despite the "hell with the lid off" around it. The military, frustrated in its own attempts to build robots, got in touch with CMU engineers in the 1980s. In 1995, CMU opened its world-famous National Robotics Engineering Center. Like Stanford University to Silicon Valley, CMU was slowly molding Pittsburgh into a destination for top talent in an industry destined to shape much of the future. 

Roboticists at the university began building a semi-autonomous car on a military contract in 2007, according to The New York Times, and from there the engineers and others at the school continued to up their level of expertise so much that, by 2014, Kalanick knew he wanted Uber's autonomous driving empire to start in Pittsburgh. 

Uber announced a partnership with CMU early last year, but that partnership turned rocky and aggressive in a hurry, as Uber decided to hire away dozens of the school's top robotics talent for its own lab just up the road.

That's what can happen when researchers and academics and engineers, long toiling in the obscurity of a university, realize their work can provide the pillar of an industry that could well be worth billions and billions of dollars. Uber offered them money that the university simply couldn't match, and a chance to see their ideas driving around on the road, as Uber's self-driving cars have been this year as they prepped for passengers. 

What happens next, for the city, could very well determine the trajectory of Pittsburgh for decades to come. Uber and other big-name tech-centric firms know what Pittsburgh has to offer — the talent and the livability. But will this injection of high-powered start-up culture bring all Pittsburgh natives up with the rising tide, or will it wash away those who don't have the degrees or technical skills to participate in this more modern economy? Can the city avoid selling part of its soul to compete with cities more commonly mentioned in stories about tech hubs, such as San Francisco and Austin and New York?

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