Uber Picks Up Jeep-Hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek

Uber, that bane of taxi drivers everywhere, has hired car-hacking white hats Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek to help develop self-driving vehicles.

According to Reuters, Miller and Valasek will join Uber’s new Advanced Technologies Center. The duo put rubber to the road, as it were, on connected car security last month when they demonstrated how to remotely hack a Jeep Cherokee. That prompted Chrysler to recall 1.4 million vehicles and sparked a discussion on the future of automotive safety procedures.

Miller was most recently at Twitter and is perhaps most famous for his iPhone hacks; Valasek was director of security intelligence at IOActive. The two have been working together on car hacks for a couple of years now. Poaching them is a high-value move for Uber, which specializes in preternaturally savvy marketing. Given that moving into self-driving cars will put the company in direct competition with bigwigs like Google and Tesla, differentiating early on security is a wise move.

Uber is either loved or hated depending on who you talk to – by all accounts, the people that run the company are cut-throat to the extreme. And it’s had a few pesky privacy issues.

But there’s no denying the beauty of its concept – using a mobile app, it’s possible to call a car to pick you up, wherever you are. No more standing in the rain with your arm up in the air for so long it hurts; no more hour-long waits for a cab at closing time; no more worries about shift changes and “downstreamers” (NYC peeps, you know what I’m talking about).

You just click the app open, fill in your destination and a driver is there in a few minutes. You can even track his or her progress getting to you via a handy-dandy map that shows a little car making its way through the streets. You get a quote up front, payment is seamless (via a credit card registered in the app) and the receipt is emailed. It’s a thing of beauty.

Uber hopes that those cars will soon be devoid of actual people that require salary payments. It’s moving into sixth gear (ahem) on this: Reuters is reporting that it has already staffed its Advanced Technologies Center with more than 40 robotics engineers from nearby Carnegie Mellon University. It also has a partnership with the University of Arizona to develop mapping and optical lens technologies for the project.

I for one am totally along for this ride.

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