If you see an Uber with a big camera on the roof driving through your neighbourhood, don’t try to request it.
The ride-hailing company has started rolling out its fleet of camera cars, which look similar to the famous Google Street View cars, as Uber works towards boosting its mapping capabilities. The Uber camera cars have already been spotted in Florence, Kentucky and are rolling their way through the Midwest right now.
Uber has been doubling-down on building its own maps since it inherited a mapping startup DeCarta in March and then completed the Bing deal in June. It also reportedly lost out on a chance to buy Nokia’s Here mapping division.
The June deal gave Uber part of Microsoft search engine Bing’s mapping tech and 1oo of its engineers, plus a couple dozen of these camera cars. The cars, which used to be labelled for Microsoft, have been on the roads for a few months to collect imagery for the maps.
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. It’s one of the most frustrating aspects of using Uber — watching five minutes pass by with the ETA still set at five minutes — so its efforts in boosting its mapping are aimed at being better for riders while also providing better routes for the drivers.
These “mapping cars” are different from the fleet of self-driving cars that are also equipped with cameras that are driving around Tucson, Arizona. While that flight of vehicles is also working on mapping, they aren’t using the Bing technology and are focused on Uber’s self-driving car ambitions.
An Uber spokeswoman confirmed that the Uber car spotted in Kentucky, and reported by Buzzfeed, is part of its mapping efforts.
“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 — such as routing and ETA calculations,” she said.