Uber’s recent deals expand its autonomous vehicle strategy

November 23, 2015  - By

Uber has made big moves implementing location technology by signing a deal with TomTom, buying Microsoft’s mapping technology, and outright purchasing deCarta this year. The company is working with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg to develop autonomous vehicle technology. In other location news, distinct technology is cropping up in the indoor location market to make widespread implementation possible.

Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy

Uber is becoming a big player in the location industry with its announcement this month that it will use TomTom’s maps and traffic data for its ride-hailing service. The deal’s financial terms were not disclosed.

While Uber unsuccessfully made a $3 billion bid for Nokia’s mapping business, it also acquired Microsoft’s mapping technology and the key personnel that came with it. The San Francisco-based company, currently operating in 300 cities worldwide, also acquired veteran location industry deCarta earlier this year.

The mapping data will be key in Uber’s strategy to be a major force in autonomous vehicle development. To research driverless cars, Uber has leased a 53,000-square-foot facility in Pittsburgh.

The question is, what market segment will be first for major autonomous vehicle rollout? At least one executive believes such technology companies as Uber have the advantage. “Because the continued success of [Uber’s] business depends on it, and they have the money to spend on it to gain a competitive advantage,” explained Scott Frank, Airbiquity vice president of marketing. “If ride share companies can reduce the variability and expense of physical drivers, they can reduce the cost of their services — even while improving their margins, and compete more effectively for market share versus private ride services, like taxis/limousines and public transportation, which is more limiting in terms of availability and comfort.”

Frank says his company sees the market differently than others when it comes to autonomous vehicle development and rollout. “Google has been clear since the beginning about their automotive end goal, which takes a very long-range view — produce fully autonomous vehicles connected to public infrastructure with everything connected by Android and enabled by Google computing, data management, service delivery and advertising capability,” he said.

Apple and Tesla’s ambitions are more in close and short-term, in that they want to produce electric vehicles that are better than what the traditional automakers are able to churn out, Frank said.

“Uber is a recent entry into the fray, so it’s a bit premature to put them in the ‘build a vehicle platform’ class, although it’s becoming evident that they are very interested in developing underlying technologies that autonomous cars will certainly rely on,” he said. “In the last couple of months we’ve seen public statements from large traditional automakers referencing their autonomous vehicle ambitions, so they are definitely going to step up and not simply concede the autonomous opportunity to Google — or any another automotive industry newcomers.”

Frank believes there are distinct areas in the United States where autonomous vehicle rollouts make sense. “[Companies are looking at] transportation pain points that autonomous will solve like urban traffic and lack of easy and affordable parking, public transportation infrastructure that can more easily accommodate the necessary changes to integrate and support autonomous, and metro sizes that aren’t so large that it would impossible and/or too costly to get anything done,” he said. “So cities like Portland, Minneapolis, Austin, Raleigh and [such areas as] Silicon Valley come to mind, to name just a few.”

Either way, autonomous vehicles will present huge societal and business changes and such questions as will the public trust the new technology and get them where they need to go, safely and reliably, Frank said. “As with all new technologies there will be an adoption curve at play here with early adaptors taking the lead ahead of the mainstream,” he said. “We saw the same thing with horseless carriages, by the way. People placed more trust in their horses before they began to understand and allow themselves to realize the benefits of motorized transportation.”

In other autonomous vehicle news, Ford said last week it was ramping up its driverless car efforts by being the first automaker to test its self-driving cars at Mcity, a 32-acre prototype town with private roads in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Indoor Location Market Finds Low-Cost Technology

Recent advancements in chip-based indoor location position technology are allowing developers to find a low-cost way to get the capability into multiple devices, said Bruce Krulwich, Grizzly Analytics founder.

“The most exciting aspect of recent advances in chip-based indoor location positioning technologies is that indoor positioning is being added to the next generations of chipsets already being used in today’s smartphones,” said Krulwich, who recently released a new study, Chip-Based Indoor Location Technologies, which profiles GPS, Wi-Fi and sensor processing chips. “This means that the chips that device makers already include in their designs will soon include indoor location capabilities.”

The biggest advantage of chip-based approaches is that they can integrate data from GPS, Wi-Fi and MEMS motion sensors at a very low level, using data direct from the chips, without requiring work by the CPU to enable more efficient and continuous location positioning, Krulwich said.

“While there are many approaches being taken by the chip makers, the one that I’m most excited about is the combination of motion sensing with GPS. In this approach, the same chips that process GPS signals also use data from MEMS sensors, such as accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers, to track locations when GPS signals are unavailable,” he said. “Motion-sensing approaches don’t work forever, since errors in the sensors accumulate over time, but should be able to give reasonable location estimates for 10-15 minutes after a person walks inside. This should be long enough to be a very valuable source of location positioning in between GPS or Wi-Fi signals.

Krulwich said this positioning approach can work anywhere, without Wi-Fi hotspots, BLE beacons or even maps of the site. “This is the closest to ubiquitous location positioning that I’ve seen,” he said.

Krulwich believes the new chip technology will allow the first large-scale incorporation of location technologies into electronic devices, appliances, wearables, Internet of Things (IoT) and others. “A cool example is a camera that tracks an athlete’s location automatically as they run around the basketball court.”

In other location news:

A new agenda is out for Driverless, which will be March 22-23, 2016, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, San Francisco Airport. The autonomous vehicle conference will feature more than 30 speakers and 15 exhibitors. Go to www.driverlessmarket.com for more information.


About the Author: Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy is GPS World’s editor for location-based services, writing a monthly column for the LBS Insider newsletter. Dennehy has been writing about the location industry for more than 20 years. He covered GPS and location technology for Global Positioning & Navigation News for seven years. His articles on the wireless industry have been published in both consumer and trade magazines and newspapers.

1 Comment on "Uber’s recent deals expand its autonomous vehicle strategy"

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  1. Fascinating article about Uber.

    The research report referenced in the second half, the Grizzly Analytics report on Chip-Based Indoor Location Technologies, is available here: http://www.grizzlyanalytics.com/report_2015_11_chip.html