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Watch out Google, Uber may be making its own self-driving cars

The ride-hailing service partners with Carnegie Mellon University to build a high-tech lab that focuses on mapping, vehicle safety and autonomy technology.

Google was one of the first companies to work on self-driving cars. This is its first fully functional prototype unveiled in December 2014. Google

It's no secret that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is a fan of self-driving cars. He's touted the futuristic technology in the past and has even said it could one day replace Uber's human drivers. So, it's not too far off base that Uber is now opening its own lab to do research and development on "autonomy technology."

Uber is a ride-hailing service that lets passengers use a smartphone to book rides from drivers who use their own cars. Wading into robotics territory is thus a completely new venture for the company. Besides autonomy technology, the new lab will also focus on mapping and vehicle safety.

The lab is dubbed the Uber Advanced Technologies Center and will be located in Pittsburgh. Uber is partnering on the project with Carnegie Mellon University and will work with the school's faculty, staff and students -- both on campus and at its associated National Robotics Engineering Center.

"We are excited to join the community of Pittsburgh and partner with the experts at CMU, whose breadth and depth of technical expertise, particularly in robotics, are unmatched," Uber's Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden said in a statement.

While opening a research lab seems like a costly endeavor, Uber has the cash to do it. The ride-hailing service has raised $4.9 billion, including debt financing, and is currently the highest valued venture-backed company in the world with a valuation of more than $41 billion.

Google was one of the first companies to begin working on self-driving cars. Over the last five years, Google has incrementally highlighted its progress, and in December it finally unveiled its first finished prototype. Since Google's original announcement, other companies, like Tesla, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, have also come up with self-driving car projects. Google has said it plans to bring autonomous cars to market by 2020.

Since Uber is not an auto manufacturer, it may seem strange that it wants to get into the autonomy technology business. But, during an interview last May at the Code Conference, company CEO Kalanick praised self-driving cars, saying they could be safe, environmentally friendly and ultimately lower the cost of rides.

"The reason Uber could be expensive is you're paying for the other dude in the car," Kalanick said. "When there is no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere is cheaper."

When asked whether he was concerned about self-driving cars taking away jobs from Uber drivers, Kalanick said that's just the way it is.

"If I were talking to one of the drivers we partner with, I'd say look: this is the way the world is going to go and if Uber didn't go that way it won't exist," he said.

The timing of the announcement is interesting in that Bloomberg reported earlier Monday that Google is looking to take on Uber with a ride-hailing service of its own.