Uber may bid adieu to Google Maps; move to open source ones instead

Photo: Reuters
Taxi-hailing giant Uber has readied plans to contribute to community-owned OpenStreetMap (OSM) project which allows anyone to edit and update online maps of cities around the world. The company will be rolling out this project in India soon, starting with Delhi.


While Uber now uses Google Maps for its platform, the buzz in the developer community suggests the company could be looking to move away gradually to open source maps for its commercial purposes. Reason? It is cost-effective and in some cases, more reliable due to user inputs from around the world.


OSM is an online project; it is a crowdsourced mapping initiative based on user inputs and follows the same model as Wikipedia where anyone can create and update information based on his/her knowledge. These maps are used by academics as well as fledgling start-ups who cannot afford to purchase enterprise-level mapping services such as Google Maps for their products.


The company is already using these open source maps internally for deriving driving time and distance estimates to do a more accurate fare calculation and to optimise driver and rider matching. The company informed the community through a post on the developer forum for OSM where it wrote it will look to submit updates to correct issues where road directionality and turn restrictions are not updated on these maps.

“We have selected the Delhi-National Capital Region as the first city for this initiative. We do not plan to make any large-scale, machine-generated edits for this project,” wrote Suneel Kaw, maps product manager, Uber.


For this online project, Uber will be making edits through a small team based in Palo Alto, California. This team will also be assisted by the Uber team in Delhi which will help its California counterparts with local knowledge of the city and sort out any wrinkles with the data.


For this project, the Uber team will be looking to address three specific issues, including turn restriction, road directionality, and road geometry.


This is not the first time Uber has paid attention to develop its own mapping prowess. Uber rides collect data through global positioning systems in their riders and drivers’ phones which are relayed to the company. The company uses this in its Uber Movement platform too where it provides anonymised data from over 2 billion rides around the world to aid in city planning. Uber frequently analyses this data itself to publish studies and posts about the impact on traffic after big events, for instance.


Uber has been acquiring small map related start-ups globally since 2015. It also acquired a part of Bing’s mapping assets. The company is also working on its autonomous car project which will require high-quality street mapping to take off.


“The team will be using the available data sources in the JOSM tool for its corrections and validations. We will share the profiles of our editors on Uber’s OSM page soon. The edits will be made according to the organised editing best practices and India guidelines,” Kaw wrote.


Uber did not respond to queries sent by Business Standard seeking further details of this initiative.

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