Meet Delphi, the self-driving car company in Pittsburgh that you probably don’t know much about

You could be next to one of their self-driving SUVs and not even know it.

Delphi is testing its self-driving cars in and around Pittsburgh.

Delphi is testing its self-driving cars in and around Pittsburgh.

John F. Martin for Delphi Automotive
MJ Slaby

With its fleet of ten self-driving Audi SUVs, automotive company Delphi is preparing for a new Pittsburgh headquarters and to double its local workforce.

The United Kingdom-based company flies under the radar in Pittsburgh compared to its self-driving vehicle competitors. Carnegie Mellon University has been an industry leader for 30 years. Uber offers Pittsburghers rides in its self-driving cars. And Ford stirred up buzz when it announced a $1 billion investment in Argo AI to create a “virtual driver system.”

But Glen De Vos, Delphi’s chief technology officer, told The Incline he doesn’t mind it that way.

“We’re not as worried about brand awareness,” he said, adding that the company isn’t consumer-focused, but rather honed in on getting technology to market to make money for its customers. De Vos said he’s expecting public interest in the company to grow. Take Singapore, for example, where Delphi is testing self-driving taxis.

Delphi plans to have its technology ready for automakers by 2019, but production times mean the soonest companies could have Delphi self-driving cars is 2021, The Verge reported.

Delphi in the Steel City

Delphi has about 25 employees here at the RIDC Industrial Park in O’Hara Township, De Vos said. The company plans to have 50 employees in Pittsburgh by the end of 2017 before moving into new headquarters in early 2018, De Vos said. Delphi officials declined to say where that will be.

The company currently has 10 Pittsburgh jobs posted on its website, largely in engineering. Those openings add to the self-driving car jobs coming to Pittsburgh in 2017. Uber is expected to add 300 jobs, according to Mayor Bill Peduto. Argo AI is hiring 200 employees between Pittsburgh and two other locations by the end of the year, according to a news release.

The competition in Pittsburgh is “tougher now than it’s ever been,” but “it’s healthy,” De Vos said, adding that Delphi is used to competition in all areas of its business, not just self-driving cars. He said he’s confident that Delphi “can get the staff and the talent we need” in Pittsburgh.

Delphi employs 173,000 people in 46 countries and focuses on “safer, greener and more connected solutions” for transportation, according its website.

About three years ago, Delphi started working with Ottomatika, a CMU spinoff in Pittsburgh for self-driving car software and systems development, De Vos said.

The next year — 2015 — De Vos said Delphi had success doing a cross-country drive in the spring and a few months later, Delphi acquired Ottomatika. That meant gaining more than a decade of work on automation. Though Delphi was new to Pittsburgh, the company was building on knowledge already here, while other companies started from scratch, De Vos said.

Delphi’s Pittsburgh team grew from a handful to the mid-20s in three years, he said, adding that the company has nearly 20,000 engineers worldwide supporting the work happening in Pittsburgh.

BTW: You might have driven past one

Self-driving cars in Pittsburgh aren’t exactly an uncommon sight. But De Vos said the Delphi’s fleet isn’t as noticeable.

Delphi tests 10 Audi SQ5 SUVs in and around the Pittsburgh area. Because of competition, the company wouldn’t get more specific.

Similar to the much-talked about Uber self-driving vehicles, Delphi has at least two people in each one: a safety engineer in the driver’s seat and a second engineer with a laptop, looking at data. Sounds familiar right?

What’s less familiar is the vehicle’s look. De Vos said there is no “big set of antlers” with cameras and sensors on top. There’s no labeling on the side either. (Currently, there are no laws in Pa. about labeling self-driving cars, but that might change.) That’s because Delphi’s approach is to have the vehicles as “close to production intent as possible,” De Vos said, adding that that means the trunk isn’t filled with a computer either.

So how do they do that? Well, it has to do with partnerships with Intel and Mobileye. Pairing with Intel allowed Delphi to increase processing power tenfold and tech-company Mobileye created a new mapping system, Car and Driver reported:

Working with Delphi, Mobileye engineers have developed what they call Road Experience Management (REM), a vision-based system that determines a vehicle’s location with a high degree of accuracy—within less than four inches—by measuring the distance between the vehicle and known landmarks it passes along the route. […] Engineers can determine an average of where the past 1,000 vehicles have traveled along a particular road and have a pretty good idea of the optimal route for its cars.