Uber has announced a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) that will see the ride-sharing service begin research into autonomous vehicles and self-driving technology.
It is expected to be several years before favourable regulation and technological advances allow Uber to roll out a driverless service, however concerns have already been raised about the thousands of jobs that will potentially be put at risk.
The startup promised last month to provide 50,000 jobs as part of a "new partnership" with European cities, using the announcement to offset criticism the firm has faced for its flouting of local regulation and anti-competition practices.
"Uber is growing every month, and is becoming a bigger part of not just cities and transportation systems, but of the whole economy," David Plouffe, senior vice president for policy and strategy at Uber, told the New York Times in a recent interview.
"We're likely to be one of the biggest job-producing companies for the economy over the coming years."
Thilo Koslowski, vice president and automotive practice leader at research firm Gartner, believes that it will be some time before the new technology fully replaces the driver.
"I don't think it will replace the driver any time soon," Koslowski told IBTimes UK. "It will more likely be used to assist the driver in order to offer the customer a safer experience."
'Unmatched' robotics expertise
The new institute in Pittsburgh, named the Uber Advanced Technologies Center, will focus on research and development into mapping, vehicle safety and autonomy technology.
"We are excited to join the community of Pittsburgh and partner with the experts at CMU, whose breadth of technical expertise, particularly in robotics are unmatched," said Jeff Holden, chief product officer at Uber.
"As a global leader in urban transportation, we have the unique opportunity to invest in leading edge technologies to enable the safe and efficient movement of people and things at giant scale."
The agreement between the two will involve funding from Uber for fellowships and faculty chairs at CMU.
"Uber is a rapidly growing company known for its innovative technology that is radically improving access to transportation for millions of global citizens," said Andrew Moore, Dean of the School of Computer Science at CMU.
"We look forward to partnering with Uber as they build out the Advanced Technologies Center and to working together on real-world applications, which offer very interesting new challenges at the intersection of technology, mobility, and human interactions."