China’s Uber rival Didi Chuxing has officially opened its U.S.-based research lab. The new center is part of a move to suck up talent beyond Didi’s current catchment pool in China, particularly in the areas of AI and self-driving vehicles, but it doesn’t signal an expansion of its service into North America.
The existence of the research center itself isn’t new. Last September, TechCrunch wrote that Didi had hired a pair of experienced security experts based in the U.S. — Dr. Fengmin Gong and Zheng Bu — to lead the center, which works closely with another China-based facility that opened in late 2015. But now it is officially open.
Dr. Gong will lead the facility in Mountain View, and his team of “dozens of leading data scientists and researchers” will include former Uber researcher Charlie Miller. Miller rose to fame in 2015 when he hacked a journalist’s vehicle from a laptop 10 miles away in a pre-arranged stunt to demonstrate vulnerabilities within the automotive industry.
Miller’s job seems much like his role at Uber according to tweets he sent out today. His defection is noteworthy as it appears to be the first major poach that Didi has made from Uber, and it falls in the self-driving car space where Uber has made a huge push.
Didi is looking to make an early impact in Silicon Valley through a partnership with Udacity around self-driving vehicles. The two companies announced a joint contest inviting teams to develop an Automated Safety and Awareness Processing Stack (ASAPS) to increase driving safety for both manual and self-driving vehicles. Five finalists chosen will get a shot at the $100,000 grand prize and the opportunity to work more closely with Didi and Udacity on automotive projects.