Uber to invest $500 million to map the world

160519 uber atc

An Uber self-driving car prototype is seen in an undated handout from the company.

Credit: Uber

Uber may have a bit of a Google complex.

The ride-hailing company has for years relied on Google Maps to make its business possible, but now Uber wants to create in-house maps that are tailored to the company's specific needs, and it is investing big money in the project. This, combined with the fact that Uber is working on self-driving cars, makes it sound a little bit like...well, Google. So what is Uber's end game here?

In IT Blogwatch, we hit the road.

What exactly is going on? Mary Pascaline has the background:

Hoping to reduce its dependence on Google Maps...Uber is...adding an ambitious geomapping project and driverless cars to its list of innovations. Uber [is] invest[ing] $500 million in mapping...Google has also increased the fee it charges to use Google Maps.
...
The ride-hailing company also hired...Brian McClendon last year. McClendon previously ran Google Maps and is considered an expert in digital mapping.

Seems like a pretty ambitious project to redo something that already seems pretty well done. So why is Uber investing in mapping? John Ribeiro fills in the blanks:

Uber wants more information...including more data on traffic patterns and precise pickup and dropoff locations.
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Uber includes some of its own and third-party mapping technologies into its app, and has also acquired mapping and location company deCarta...it also acquired technology used by Microsoft’s Bing Maps...It isn’t clear whether the company is developing the maps only for its in-house use, although that seems likely.

OK, we understand how more data could be important. Brian McClendon, you know, the former Google Maps guy who now works for Uber expands on that:

Uber wouldn’t exist if comprehensive interactive digital maps hadn’t been created first...Existing maps are a good starting point, but...there are other things we need to know a lot more about, like traffic patterns and precise pickup and dropoff locations. Moreover, we need to be able to provide a seamless experience in parts of the world where there aren’t detailed maps -- or street signs.
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Last year we put mapping cars on the road in the United States. This summer they hit the road in Mexico...we plan to expand these efforts to other countries soon.

Not everyone is going to think this is the best use of funds, though, especially because Uber has dealt with some issues over how it treats drivers. Mark Love imagines how the conversation that got this project going might have went:

“You know what we should spend $500,000,000 on?”…“Better pay & benefits for drivers?”…“No, rebuilding Google Maps.”
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