Waymo's self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan. Photo courtesy of Waymo.

Pittsburgh’s status as a world-leading hub for autonomous vehicle technology just got a big boost. Waymo, one of the industry’s leaders in self-driving tech, is opening an office in Pittsburgh. The company will join Aurora, Motional, Argo AI, Locomation and others in what has become a vibrant ecosystem of autonomous vehicle expertise and entrepreneurship.

“Pittsburgh is one of the main hubs for autonomous driving technology development in the U.S.,” says Julia Ilina, communications manager with Waymo. “With its top academic institutions and a long history of AV innovation, you can see why we’d be excited about Pittsburgh’s engineering and technology talent and world-class expertise in robotics.”

Waymo, which plans to hire about 20 engineers by the end of the year, will be sharing office space in Bakery Square with Google. Waymo began as Google’s self-driving car project but is now an independent subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google.

Waymo will be bringing on board the small Pittsburgh company RobotWits and its CEO and Founder Maxim Likhachev.

The Pittsburgh team will focus on Waymo Driver, including motion planning, route planning and behavior prediction.

Waymo vehicles. Photos courtesy of Waymo.

The RobotWits team’s expertise in developing and applying search algorithms for real-time route planning is expected to accelerate Waymo’s development.

There are no plans to deploy Waymo’s self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. The Silicon Valley-based company operates an autonomous ride-hailing service in Phoenix.

Expertise in the nascent tech of autonomous vehicles is in short supply, and Pittsburgh has an abundance of it. However, the competition is getting fierce.

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.