Uber has rolled out a fleet of camera vehicles, which bear a striking resemblance to Google’s street view cars, in order to improve its maps, driving routes and ETA’s. The cars have already been spotted in Florence, Kentucky, and are now making their way through the Midwest.
The systems used in the vehicles were first designed by Microsoft; this isn’t surprising news, as Uber purchased a portion of Microsoft’s Bing Maps technology in June. The deal involved the ride-sharing company acquiring a number of ‘assets’ from Microsoft, along with about 100 employees. It seems some of those assets included a few dozen camera cars.
“This is an Uber mapping car. In June, Uber acquired a subset of the Microsoft Maps business and imagery collection technology was included as part of that acquisition. These cars have been on the road for the last several months collecting imagery that will help improve mapping features that are so integral to the Uber experience,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch.
It was reported in May that Uber was spotted testing one of its "advanced" vehicles on the streets of Pittsburgh. This car also sported image collection technology, but the company says that was for its separate autonomous vehicle project.
Uber has been successfully building up its own map technology with the Bing deal and its March acquisition of mapping startup deCarta. At one point the company looked set to buy Nokia’s Here mapping division, but later dropped out.
At the moment the Uber app uses Google and Apple maps in combination with its own software. Having its own mapping technology could give Uber's drivers better route directions and help improve the accuracy of ETAs given to customers.