Uber Maps, Google Maps

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Uber, the cab-booking app, has not come out to officially say it, but according to a Financial Times report, the company is investing $500 million on an initiative to create their own maps.

Uber Maps, Google Maps

Apart from the huge amount dedicated to the mapping project, what makes this an eye-brow raising news is the fact that Uber wants to end their association with Google Maps.

The reason could be the fact that Google recently increased the fee charged companies like Uber for using Google Maps. Which means Uber is making less money.

The other reason could be because Uber want to have their own map infrastructure customized to meet their business requirements. That makes a lot of sense if you consider that Google Maps is bloated with information that a cab company like Uber doesn’t need. And they have to pay for the things they don’t need.

Uber Maps, Google Maps
Uber app

From the point of view of solely finance, Uber is at the moment flushed with so much cash. Individuals and corporate investors are rushing to invest in Uber. So that kind of money is handy in building something like a custom maps to help their own drivers.

This news fits in with a blog post penned by Brian McClendon where he made the right sound bites about why there is a need for an Uber Maps. McClendon is very qualified to make such pronouncements as he was once an employee of Google. While at Google, he was in charge of creating what the world now knows as Google Earth.

Basically, his pedigree is impeccable

Here is a bit of what he said in the blog post:

Behind every successful Uber ride is a technology many of us take for granted: maps. Mobile maps and GPS allow us to match you with the closest available driver, navigate the fastest path to your destination, and give you an accurate ETA. Accurate maps are at the heart of our service and the backbone of our business.

In fact, Uber wouldn’t exist if comprehensive interactive digital maps hadn’t been created first. For over a decade, I helped lead that effort as the head of Google Maps. Today I lead Uber’s mapping efforts to ensure we can provide a safe, reliable ride — no matter where you are. To do that, Uber uses a mix of mapping technologies (including our own) to provide the underlying infrastructure for our apps.

Existing maps are a good starting point, but some information isn’t that relevant to Uber, like ocean topography. 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.”

Uber Maps, Google Maps
Uber app

To make sure their own mapping software is top-notch, Uber did acquire several mapping technologies and hired some top engineers from Microsoft.

Personally, this move by Uber is very surprising to me. Having used Google Maps and Google Earth to do basic navigating in several cities, I just can’t understand how Uber or anybody can accuse Google Maps of being inadequate.

And it was just recently that Google Maps upgraded their services moving over to new satellites with more modern cameras. The net effect of that was better resolution and sharper images.

Uber Maps, Google Maps
Navigating with Uber app

I guess when you have so much money, the tendency is to spend it if your plan is to be the best in the world. For now though, at least from what one got from the blog post, only the US has being fully mapped by Uber engineers. That was done last year.

Presently the team is in Mexico mapping the country for the Uber app. At this rate, it would take a while before the whole world is covered. Unless there is a plan to accelerate the project at some stage in the future.


image credit: bbc.com; techcrunch.com; fonearena.com; wired.com