Transportation network company Uber is investing $500 million in its own global mapping project, which will reduce reliance on Google Maps.
The Uber app is powered by Google Maps in most parts of the world. In 2015, Brian McClendon, the ex-VP of Google Maps, joined Uber as the leader of the company's new digital mapping project. McClendon's appointment itself hinted at Uber's plans of reducing reliance on Google Maps.
McClendon acknowledges that accurate maps are very significant to Uber's business. However, there has been a need to tailor the mapping service to enhance the Uber experience. McClendon suggests that existing maps are important for Uber but not all information contained in those maps such as ocean topography is relevant to the business.
Uber is more keen on details such as traffic patterns in a region, accurate dropoff and pickup customer locations. The company also wants its customers to have a hassle-free experience in regions where detailed maps are not available.
"The ongoing need for maps tailored to the Uber experience is why we're doubling down on our investment in mapping. Last year we put mapping cars on the road in the United States. This summer they hit the road in Mexico. Our efforts are similar to what other companies including Apple and TomTom are already doing around the world," says McClendon.
An in-house mapping service will be of great advantage to drivers in many towns and cities. On many occasions, drivers have to call passengers to get their accurate pickup location. Uber's own mapping can mark locations with high precision. For instance, Uber may mark a main door as well as side doors on its maps so that customers can set their precise pickup point.
Ridehailing companies such as Uber have to pay a fee to Google for using Google Maps. Reports suggest that Google has also increased this fee, which is concerning for companies using Google Maps. Uber's own mapping software will make the company independent and eliminate dependency on any third-party digital maps provider.
In 2015, Uber acquired Microsoft's Bing's imagery collection team. The company also acquired a mapping company called deCarta, which developed the turn-by-turn directions behind the OnStar software. These acquisitions reflect Uber's focus on developing its own mapping service.
McClendon further suggests that Uber's mapping project will also help the company's next-gen plans of autonomous vehicles.
It remains to be seen how swiftly Uber is able to develop its own map and improve transportation for millions of people worldwide.