Uber is spending $500 million to cure its addiction to Google

Uber mapping carUberAn Uber mapping vehicle.

Uber is planning to drop a cool $500 million to end its reliance on Google.

The ride-hailing company is working on a major mapping project, the company announced in a recent blog post, sending a fleet of mapping vehicles across the US and Mexico — with similar efforts planned for other countries across the globe.

Uber declined to comment on how much it is spending on this project, but a report in The Financial Times puts a figure on it, based on “someone familiar with Uber’s plans”: Half a billion dollars.

Worth more than $60 billion, Uber is Silicon Valley’s largest pre-IPO startup. It has aggressively expanded all over the world — but it remains reliant on Google to provide the mapping data that powers its ride-hailing service.

Uber and Google have historically been close, with Google Ventures (now called GV) investing $258 million into Uber in 2013 in what was then its largest deal ever.

But the two companies are now increasingly starting to look like rivals, with both investing heavily in self-driving car technology — and with Google launching an carpool-based Uber competitor in the Bay Area.

It’s no surprise, then, that Uber wants to have its own mapping data to work with, rather than being reliant on Google’s. The FT also reports that Google is bumping up how much it charges for companies to use Google Maps — which will only make Uber more keen to become truly independent.

“Existing maps are a good starting point, but some information isn’t that relevant to Uber, like ocean topography,” Uber VP Brian McClendon wrote in a blog post. “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.”

(Side note: McClendon, before he was poached by Uber, used to head up Google Maps at Google.)

McClendon also says that this mapping project will aid Uber’s next-generation plans like autonomous vehicles: “Over the past decade mapping innovation has disrupted industries and changed daily life in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I started. That progress will only accelerate in the coming years especially with technologies like self-driving cars. I remain excited by the prospect of how maps can put the world at our fingertips, improve everyday life, impact billions of people and enable innovations we can’t even imagine today.”

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