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Uber scientist says some time before self-driving cars dominate the road

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Uber Technologies believes it will take a long time for self-driving cars to be used at scale but the technology will save lives, the chief scientist at its self-driving car unit said on Monday.

[NEW YORK] Uber Technologies believes it will take a long time for self-driving cars to be used at scale but the technology will save lives, the chief scientist at its self-driving car unit said on Monday.

Raquel Urtasun, who is chief scientist at Uber Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) and heads the group's unit in Toronto, spoke at a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York.

The progress of Uber's self-driving car unit is in the spotlight as the company prepares to go public later this year. The unit is a significant contributor to Uber's losses, which in 2018 were US$1.8 billion before taxes, depreciation and other expenses.

However, some consider Uber's ability to successful navigate the transition to autonomous vehicles as crucial to the company's long-term prospects.

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Uber opened ATG in Toronto in 2017 and named Urtasun, who is also an associate professor at the University of Toronto, as head of the Toronto organization.

Uber said last year it would invest millions of dollars in Toronto to expand its self-driving car operations. The company had been seen as a leader in the technology until one if its autonomous SUVs killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, in March last year.

Uber then removed its robot cars from the road, laid off hundreds of test drivers and shuttered operations in Arizona, its autonomous testing hub. Uber resumed testing its cars on public roads in December.

A group of investors led by SoftBank Group Corp and Toyota Motor Corp are in talks to invest US$1 billion or more into Uber's self-driving vehicle unit, Reuters reported last month.

Uber, last valued at US$76 billion in the private market, is seeking a valuation as high as US$120 billion in its IPO and may kick off its investor roadshow before the end of April, people familiar with the matter have said.

This would follow the public listing of smaller rival Lyft Inc, whose shares have struggled since pricing its IPO last month at the top of its targeted range.

REUTERS