Uber rolls out camera cars in Australia, takes on Google Maps
Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson, National technology editor, News Corp Australia Network
January 15, 2017 11:31pm
AUSTRALIAN roads will see two technology giants collide today as Uber rolls out a fleet of hi-tech vehicles across the country designed to upgrade Google Maps.
The ride-sharing giant will employ its own fleet of camera-equipped cars in Australia, starting on the Gold Coast, in an initiative led by the former head of Google Maps.
But the Queensland test drive is just the start of a nationwide push by Uber to better predict traffic snarls, estimate travel time, and pinpoint safe parking locations.
Uber Maps product head Manik Gupta said the company rolled out similar schemes in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Mexico last year as Google did not deliver enough information to make ride-sharing a smooth experience.
Uber are taking on Google Maps as they start to map their own streets with roof mounted cameras. Marty Hammond Uber driver partner with his car. Picture: Nigel Hallett
“We’re interested in improving maps and optimising the pick-up and drop-off experience for users,” Mr Gupta said.
“Sometimes you call for an Uber and they don’t know where to come to. We want to make the pick-up perfect … it just comes to you and you know exactly where to go.”
Mr Gupta, who worked on Google Maps for more than a decade, said Uber had equipped existing Uber cars with rooftop cameras to capture “street-level imagery”.
The photos, he said, would not be used as a Google Street View replacement but analysed to work out the best pick-up and drop-off locations for Uber drivers and riders, including directions about which side of the road to stand on for a pick-up.
Uber will begin its Australian mapping project in Queensland, where Uber was legalised in September but Mr Gupta said it planned to expand the scheme around the country this year.
“We had a lot of parameters and the Gold Coast seemed like a good spot to experiment,” he said.
“We are going to do Brisbane next. (Mapping other states) will play out over the course of the next several months.”
Uber customers will be notified if a camera-equipped vehicle is assigned to pick them up and could decline the ride, Mr Gupta said, though the car cameras would not keep images from a passenger’s collection or final destination.
Ride-sharing by companies including Uber has been legalised in most Australian states, although it remains banned in the Northern Territory.