Uber absorbs Microsoft maps team, accelerating independence from Google

Uber is absorbing about 100 engineers who work on mapping technology for Microsoft Bing, including a team based in Sunnyvale, accelerating the ride-booking company’s ambition to build its own detailed mapping platform and — perhaps someday — declare independence from Google.

The Uber-Microsoft deal gives the San Francisco ride service a branch of Microsoft’s mapping division that works on imagery acquisition and map data analysis and processing. Some of that team is based at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus in Sunnyvale, while others are in Seattle and Boulder. Uber is also acquiring a data center in Boulder.

“We’re excited about the talent and technology this acquisition brings,” Uber said in an emailed statement. “Mapping is at the heart of what makes Uber great. So we’ll continue to work with partners, as well as invest in our own technology, to build the best possible experience for riders and drivers.”

Neither company disclosed the terms of the deal. This is at least the second big mapping purchase for Uber after it acquired San Jose-based map software firm deCarta in March. Uber was also believed to be one of many companies with an interest in acquiring Nokia’s HERE, a mapping service also known for its detailed image collection and 3D work that has a research arm in Berkeley.

Google, a longtime Uber backer and partner, dismissed rumors of a split earlier this year. Today, Google Maps is heavily integrated into Uber’s app. But Uber has increasingly been doing Google-like research by itself, such as when it poached an entire robotics team from Carnegie Mellon University whose work includes self-driving cars.

And one thing that fully automated cars need to get around by themselves is good 3D mapping images of streets and buildings, which is one possibility for why Uber was so interested in the Microsoft team.

As for Microsoft, an analyst told AP that shedding part of Bing Maps shows the company is “becoming more and more focused on the things that are working well, and jettisoning things that aren’t working well.”

TechCrunch first reported the deal on Monday.

Above: A screenshot from the Uber app, which currently relies heavily on Google Maps.


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