The force of mapping was punctuated this month when Uber, the juggernaut taxi service, acquired long-time mapping and navigation company deCarta. Uber and its competitor, Lyft, redefined taxi service with a smartphone app that connects users and drivers. These services have exceled by offering reliable low-cost rides and quick pick-ups, functionality that is enabled by seamless mapping and navigation technologies. Acquisition of a mapping company serves Uber’s high ambitions.
Following introduction in San Francisco and New York, Uber just rolled out its ride sharing service, UberPool, in my city, Los Angeles. The service allows multiple individual customers going in the same direction to share a ride and lower their fare by as much as half. The potential for reducing traffic in congested cities is large, but how likely is it that UberPool can find matches and people willing to ride with strangers?
Effective vehicle routing, navigation and traffic prediction is critical to making UberPool work. First, Uber must find pairs of trips that are similar enough in their timing and pathways to make a pairing attractive to the riders. Then, Uber needs to execute quickly and on time, given the unpredictability of whether the other rider is ready when expected. Coping with these uncertainties will be a huge challenge for Uber. Just 10 percent of work trips in America are by carpool. Can Uber develop the algorithm to make ride sharing attractive? Let’s wait and see.
It is no surprise that Uber has announced that it will be developing self-driving car technology with the goal of self-driving Uber taxis. This puts it in direct competition with Google, one of Uber’s largest investors. Uber has partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to create a research center for mapping, vehicle safety and autonomy technology. If Uber can someday build cars that drive themselves, they can eliminate the need for a driver. The question for 2015 may well be, who is not pursuing driverless cars? Maybe Macy’s and Martha Stewart will partner on a particularly tasteful automated vehicle? Do you think you’d still have to tip?
In other news, two former leading location competitors, LocationSmart and Locaid, have merged. Together they have the largest location-as-a-service platform for enterprise location for mission-critical applications in a number of industries including service assistance, proximity marketing, workforce management, emergency alerting, mobile gaming and transaction verification. As far as I know, they are not developing a self-driving vehicle.