Heather Somerville reports from Reuters that “After a year, Carnegie Mellon and Uber research initiative is stalled”.
According to the report, in 2015 Uber began a collaboration with a CMU robotics lab to develop aspects of self driving cars. CMU is one of the top, if not the very top robotics schools, and has a long record of successful collaboration with companies. It is also an important source for new talent and ideas in robotics. A national treasure.
This sounds like a completely natural collaboration. What could go wrong?
Well, Uber managed to break one of the cardinal rules of collaboration. For whatever reason, they decided to hire away the talent. All the talent. The whole lab. We can assume that they were made an offer they couldn’t refuse. (Considering that they were lucky enough to already be at CMU, it must have been a truly eye watering amount of money.) CMU was also was left holding the bag for projects it could not execute for lack of staff.
What a bunch of skunks! Uber, I mean.
This sort of poaching happens all the time on a smaller scale, though most universities and companies are intelligent enough to realize that you have to be really careful about draining brains away from the places where brains come from. Not to mention you should be cautious about making enemies of your peers.
The Reuters article notes that since that time, Uber has give an unconstrained gift to CMU, perhaps in partial recompense, though not publicly declared. There is also a new “partnership”, with an open opportunity to collaborate. CMU has shown no interest in working with them. Andrew Moore of CMU is quoted to say that the collaboration “is just something we haven’t gotten around to“. Imagine that.
I think we see a pattern here. Uber doesn’t believe in any kind of rules, nor do they seem to have much understanding of the implications of selfish behavior. So I’m sure they aren’t sorry, and may not even understand why this was evil behavior.
They may eventually pay for this stupidity. Already, people at CMU are annoyed, and I’m sure other institutions took note. There are plenty of other companies to collaborate with and to send the best students to. There is no reason to do business with Uber, and if you do, we now know that you need to have very stringent legal terms on them.