Forget the potentially damaging lawsuit—Uber is hiring like mad for its driverless-cars business

Cruising while it can.
Cruising while it can.
Image: AP Photo/Jared Wickerham
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Uber’s work on driverless cars could be crippled by a single lawsuit. The suit, brought by Waymo, the self-driving car unit spun off by Google parent Alphabet, alleges that former Waymo employee Anthony Levandowski stole 14,000 confidential documents before leaving Waymo and later joining Uber. Waymo is asking the court to indefinitely halt Uber’s work on driverless cars, a technology Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has declared “basically existential” to the company’s survival. Uber’s odds in court don’t look great. “I’ve never seen a record this strong in 42 years,” federal judge William Alsup said earlier this month, after reviewing the evidence against Uber amassed by Waymo.

You’d never know it from the way Uber is hiring.

Uber’s job listings in Pittsburgh, home to the company’s research center on driverless technologies, have skyrocketed since late 2016, according to data provided to Quartz by financial analysis firm Thinknum. Uber had fewer than 10 openings in Pittsburgh last year until November, when the number increased to 20. But the real surge in recruiting has come in the last few weeks. Uber has added more than two dozen positions in Pittsburgh since the end of March alone. The company was hiring for 48 spots in Pittsburgh as of April 17, most of them engineering roles in its Advanced Technologies Group.

Uber confirmed to Quartz that the vast majority of its hiring in Pittsburgh is related to the driverless-car research facility. ”We’re continuing to recruit the top minds in AI, robotics and engineering as we ramp up our investment in self-driving technology,” Craig Ewer, an Uber spokesman, said via email.

At the same time, at least 20 engineers have quit the group since last November, according to Recode. The exodus, Recode reported late last month, came amid a “mini civil war” on the driverless-car team and concerns that Uber’s autonomous efforts had reached a standstill. Big losses have included Raffi Krikorian, senior director of talent at the Advanced Technologies Center; Peter Rander, an engineering lead in Pittsburgh who left last September for Ford-funded Argo AI; and famed Jeep hacker Charlie Miller, who left in March to work on autonomous vehicle security for Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing.