Uber is planning to invest $500m (£378m) in a mapping project as the company seeks to reduce dependence on Google Maps, which powers the Uber app.
In 2015, the company started operating mapping cars in the US and Mexico. The street imagery captured by the mapping cars will help Uber improve its riding experience for users; such as having more accurate pickup and drop-off points and precise routes for riders and drivers. Uber plans to expand these efforts into other countries as well.
The ride-hailing company now wants to invest in new technologies such as self-driving cars and a mapping system. A source familiar with Uber's plan told Financial Times that Uber has decided to invest in mapping.
Building a mapping system with much more accuracy would be helpful in regions where Google Maps and addresses are ambiguous. In many countries, Uber drivers call up passengers asking for their locations before a pickup. The San-Francisco-based transportation company has expanded its business in more than 60 countries, with over two billion rides.
Google has started increasing charges for the use of Google Maps, which raises concerns of further increases in future. Despite Google having earlier invested in Uber, both companies have now avoided working together. While Google is looking to develop its own ride-hailing technology, Uber is working on self-driving cars.
Uber hired Brian McClendon, who was former head of mapping at Google. McClendon, who is leading Uber's Advanced Technologies Centre, had led the development of Google Earth and Google Maps. Uber's earlier investment in mapping includes acquisition of a part of assets from Microsoft's Bing in 2015. It also acquired mapping and search startup deCarta in March 2015.
"A lot of the functionality that makes the Uber app so reliable, affordable and seamless is based on mapping technologies," said an Uber spokesperson, "With the acquisition of deCarta, we will continue to fine-tune our products and services that rely on maps — for example UberPOOL, the way we compute ETAs, and others — and make the Uber experience even better for our users."