Leslie Hook for Financial Times:
Uber is preparing to pour $500m into an ambitious global mapping project as it seeks to wean itself off dependence on Google Maps and pave the way for driverless cars.
It is interesting to watch how car manufacturers (namely VAG, BMW, Daimler) and the bigger mobility companies are trying to cut their dependencies with Google Maps.
It is not surprising though: Google is very vocal about its Autonomous Driving ambitions and sooner than later will have to clarify how Google Maps fits in its overall strategy. Mapping will be strategic for the AV future and I do not think that Google will provide all the needed mapping features (e.g. accuracy) to direct competitors.
By developing its own maps Uber could eventually reduce its reliance on Google Maps, which currently power the Uber app in most of the world.
Although Google was an earlier investor in Uber, the two companies have avoided working closely together and are now developing rival technologies for driverless cars.
Last year Uber hired one of the world’s leading digital mapping experts, Brian McClendon, who previously ran Google Maps and helped create Google Earth.
“Accurate maps are at the heart of our service and backbone of our business,” Mr McClendon said in a statement. “The ongoing need for maps tailored to the Uber experience is why we’re doubling down on our investment in mapping.”
Competition is always good and brings nothing but better products!
Mathias Döpfner interviewed Mark Zuckerberg for Die Welt this week and apparently Facebook’s CEO is also paying attention to what is happening in the space of autonomous vehicles:
[…] I think that along the way, we will also figure out how to make it safe. The dialogue today kind of reminds me of someone in the 1800s sitting around and saying: one day we might have planes and they may crash. Nonetheless, people developed planes first and then took care of flight safety. If people were focused on safety first, no one would ever have built a plane.
This fearful thinking might be standing in the way of real progress. Because if you recognize that self-driving cars are going to prevent car accidents, AI will be responsible for reducing one of the leading causes of death in the world. Similarly, AI systems will enable doctors to diagnose diseases and treat people better, so blocking that progress is probably one of the worst things you can do for making the world better.
Will Facebook ever get into autonomous vehicles? Let’s face it, mobility is probably the ultimate social connector in a physical world…
It is truly impressive the access that Steven Levy has to everything Google.
I cannot help but wonder how many miles/kilometers of autonomous driving are needed in order to make the systems ready for “public consumption”.
The test-driving program evolved out of the company’s need to log a lot of time driving autonomously. “We had two objectives,” says Chris Urmson, director of the autonomous car program, which is in the process of leaving the Google X research division and becoming a separate Alphabet company. “One was to drive 1,000 miles of interesting roads, and the other was to drive 100,000 miles of roads. At the time, this was 10 times more than anyone had ever driven before with one of these things. We realized we couldn’t just have our developers in the cars all day — we had to get some people to come out and drive them.”