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Uber and Google ready to lock horns in self-driving taxi battle

Uber might be looking to replace its workforce with an autonomous taxi brain in the near future, to compete with Google and other self-driving manufacturers.

The taxi service is reportedly looking to set up a robotics factory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to work on the cars. Uber has already started hiring staff from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, including engineers and commercial experts.

Moving to robotics seems like a smart plan for Uber, considering it could lower taxi rates if the driver's wage is unaccounted for. Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick has already said this is something Uber would like to offer in the future.

Google is reportedly also working on a taxi service to rival Uber and Lyft, which would someday offer Google's self-driving cars as taxis. Uber wants to make sure Google is not the only service offering autonomous taxi drivers.

The Pittsburgh factory will house everything from the manufacturing of the car, the platform for the self-driving and the other services Uber may provide in the car.

It is not clear if Uber is looking for a partnership to help with the robotics side of things, considering it is a daunting task to build a fully automated taxi service.

There are also security concerns to take into consideration, as highlighted by Wil Rockall, Director at KPMG’s Cyber Security practice: "We have already seen the public and governments express concerns around collecting data on people's travel. As increased automation is introduced the threat of hacking and cyber-attacks will become more real as the control of vehicles and routing is removed from human beings.

"If we get the security and privacy concerns around this right, autonomous cars could revolutionise society and provide real benefit. It is important that manufacturers, regulators and the broader industry feel free to innovate, but they can only do that if concentrated effort is put in now to understand the risks and design in security to the heart of these services."

Uber has had a string of bad PR stunts, including a recent executive asking for a professional "doxxing" attack against an editor-in-chief, claiming he was willing to pay "one million dollars" for information.

The taxi service has also been shut down in some countries following bad reputation and poor taxi rates, but Uber claims it is confident that the service will be available in most countries before the end of 2016.

Uber is still a private company, but recently held another funding round for $1.2 billion (£800,000), with a valuation of over $40 billion (£26 billion. The service has been eyed up by Facebook, Google and Microsoft, but all three have so far remained on the sidelines.

David has been a technology journalist for over six years, covering a wide range of sectors. He currently researches apps, app sectors and app markets for Business of Apps, and has written for ITProPortal, RTInsights, ReadWrite, and Digital Trends.