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Uber to Invest $500 Million in Global Mapping Project

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Uber is planing to invest $500 million into a global mapping project, with the purposes of weaning itself off dependence on Google Maps and paving the way for its driverless vehicles, according to the Financial Times’ report on Sunday. So far Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The San Francisco-based ride share company appears to be ready for raising the investment on new technologies, following the new financing in the company earlier this year. Uber now relies heavily on Google’s extensive maps to provide navigation. Since global mapping is one of the priorities for supporting its services, it is just a matter of time when Uber decides to develop its own mapping project.

“Accurate maps are at the heart of our service and the backbone of our business”, Uber executive Brian McClendon, who was formerly the head of Google Maps, said on the blog posted on July 27, “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”. He pointed out that the ongoing need for tailored maps urged Uber to double down investment on mapping.

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Uber has deployed mapping cars throughout the U.S since 2015. This summer it expanded the mapping efforts into Mexico, as a first step in the worldwide mapping project. Uber believes that the street imagery captured by mapping cars will provide granular level of detail to build up tailor-made maps, and finally help “improve core elements of the Uber experience” (e.g. ideal pick-up points). Brian McClendon further confirmed that their imagery collection efforts will be expand to other countries soon.

The ride-hailing company has expanded its business to more than 60 countries. The half billion dollar investment on global mapping project will no only bring Uber original data and customized maps, but also, keep it from having to pay for third-party map services, especially when Google raised the fees for the use of Google Maps.

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Creating its own worldwide maps also helps Uber to make a crucial steps towards using autonomous cars. Many companies have been working on driverless cars, including Apple, Google, Ford, Nissan and General Motors. Earlier this year Uber opened its own self-driving lab in Pittsburgh, and it has been advancing its driverless car efforts by a series of activities, including deploying its first self-driving cars test in Pittsburgh. Precise, high-definition maps are the key to a successful driverless car project. To build up its own mapping system, Uber bought the mapping startup deCarta and part of Microsoft Bing’s mapping assets to provide aid on this project.

Uber has raised more than $13.5 billion from investors including Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, private equity group TPG, and China’s search giant Baidu.

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