Uber’s Mapping Cars Hit the Road

20 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Confirmed – Uber has sensor-equipped mapping vehicle fleet.

“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—such as routing and ETA calculations,” Uber told PCMag. After an image appeared on Facebook of an Uber car rigged up with some exotic sensing equipment, the on-demand taxi company admitted to TechCrunch that it’s running a fleet of mapping vehicles, and even released the picture above.After acquiring Microsoft’s mapping technology and roughly 100 Bing engineers earlier this year, Uber has dispatched its own fleet of crewed vehicles in an attempt to improve upon its own maps back end.One thing that in particular throws typical mapping applications for a loop are hard intersections that are often choked with traffic, so Uber is hoping this new method could help drivers avoid these areas altogether. As most self-driving cars use in-depth 3D maps to perform autonomously, Uber may likely be creating these “prior maps” and leveraging Microsoft’s technology to that end.

Not long ago, another Uber sighting, this time on the streets of Kentucky, showed one of the ride-sharing company’s vehicles decked out with a variety of sensors. When asked about an image dug up from a private Uber driver Facebook group by TechCrunch reader Dave Craige (seen below), Uber admitted that this is a mapping vehicle piloted by a human driver, like a Google Street View car, not a self-driving car prototype.

The report also clarified that Uber’s mapping fleet is using the technology acquired from Microsoft’s Bing, while the group of Uber cars operating in Arizona and Pittsburg, where the self-driving vehicle was first spotted, are using an undisclosed tech with the help of Carnegie Mellon University. Uber was also rumored to be eyeing a $3 billion acquisition of Nokia’s Here mapping business, but that was ultimately sold to a group of European auto companies for $3.1 billion. The image data being captured won’t (yet) replace the existing maps interface that Uber’s drivers are familiar with, which blends Google Maps with “a proprietary routing algorithm” according to BuzzFeed News. Now it appears that Uber is making a big move to improve the service and efficiency of its vehicles and drivers, and to do that they need excellent maps, according to a BuzzFeed report. In addition to vehicles and mapping technologies, Uber also acquired talents — and the report suggests that somewhere close to 100 engineers have joined the transportation company.

Right now, the Uber app uses Google and Apple maps in combination with its own software to set driver routes and to give riders an ETA for when the driver will arrive to pick them up. In fact, Uber has a second group of cars traversing roads near the Advanced Technologies Center at Carnegie Mellon University; this fleet specifically focuses on self-driving tech by recording images that “inform routing as well as safety needs specifically for Uber’s autonomous cars.” The Guardian reported in May that people in Pittsburgh had spotted an Uber self-driving auto prototype that was also collecting image data, but Uber tells me that was for its separate autonomous vehicle project. Meanwhile, BuzzFeed is also reporting that aside from mapping data, Uber’s fleet also collects 3D imagery just like Google’s Street View with the goal of making its ETA estimates more precise and help its drivers take better direction, and help them avoid congested avenues.

Knowing exactly how long it takes to get from one point to another is critical for Uber as it tries to build out complex algorithms for making carpooling efficient. Knowing that a certain alleyway is impassable or that an intersection includes restrictions like ‘no left turns’ will let it better allocate cars to carpoolers, or just give riders a better idea of when to be ready.

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