Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hailing company, opened a research and development lab in Silicon Valley on Wednesday — and one of its first employees is an infamous figure in the community. The lab, which will focus on self-driving cars and artificial intelligence, counts former Uber employee and famed Jeep hacker Charlie Miller among its staff.
“Excited to announce I’m joining Didi Research America to lead the safety and security of their autonomous transportation systems,” Miller said on Twitter on Thursday. “My job is to make sure the assisted driving and autonomous systems developed and used by Didi are resistant to external attacks and threats.”
The move is a bit of a blow for Uber. Uber gave up competing with Didi on its home turf in China back in August 2016. Following a lengthy battle for market share, during which Uber CEO Travis Kalanick claimed the company was willing to spend over $1 billion per year to make it in China, the company’s China unit ultimately merged with Didi. The resultant venture was valued at around $35 billion, and as part of the deal, Didi invested $1 billion into Uber, with the latter company valued at $68 billion.
Now, Uber finds itself not only competing with Didi for self-driving car engineers in Silicon Valley, but also losing one of its brightest stars to a competitor it admitted defeat to just one year ago. Uber has been working hard to develop autonomous ride-sharing vehicles, testing in San Francisco and Pittsburgh among other places, and it’s made no secret of the fact that it wants to radically rethink its business model. Didi, it seems, has had the same idea.
Miller made headlines in July 2015 after he demonstrated that Fiat Chrysler’s Jeeps were susceptible to remote hacking. Once Miller and Chris Valasek gained access, they were able to control the air conditioning, crank up the radio, and even cut the transmission, rendering the accelerator useless. The revelation was a major embarrassment for Fiat Chrysler, and it recalled 1.4 million vehicles with the Uconnect dashboard computers that made the hack possible. In August of that year, Miller joined Uber’s advanced technology center.
Beyond the research lab, Didi is working with Udacity on an autonomous car competition. Five finalists will demonstrate their self-driving car safety technologies on Udacity’s car. The winner will get the cash prize and the chance to work in the Silicon Valley lab.