​Uber mapping fleet hits Gold Coast roads

The Californian startup darling has begun mapping Gold Coast roads to enhance its GPS capabilities as it looks to rely less on Google and Apple maps.

Uber mapping cars have hit the road on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, to collect imagery in a bid to more accurately calculate pick-up and drop-off times without relying on Apple or Google Maps.

If successful on the Gold Coast, the vehicles fitted with image capturing devices will be rolled out to other locations in Australia in the coming months. The controversial startup already has mapping fleets on the streets in Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, and South Africa since late last year.

Leading the project is Manik Gupta, head of product, Uber Maps, who previously helped lead the efforts made by Google Maps.

"Today I lead Uber's mapping efforts to ensure we can make a safe, reliable ride available to you -- no matter where you are," Gupta said in a blog post. "Uber wouldn't exist if comprehensive interactive digital maps hadn't been created first."

While Google was an early investor in Uber, it was previously said by the company that the original research from its own mapping efforts could help improve driver and rider experience by selecting better drop-off points or routes.

"Existing maps are a good starting point, but some information isn't that relevant to Uber, like ocean topography. There are other things we need to know a lot more about, like traffic patterns and precise pickup and dropoff locations. Moreover, we need to be able to provide a seamless experience in parts of the world where there aren't detailed maps -- or street signs," he added.

In early 2015, Uber bought California-based software mapping company deCarta in an effort to fine-tune its mapping technology. The startup then acquired Microsoft Bing's mapping assets, which included the cameras Microsoft used to collect mapping imagery data, a datacentre in Colorado, intellectual property, and roughly 100 engineers.

Uber also toyed with the idea of buying Nokia's "Here" mapping unit, for approximately $4 billion. It was reported at the time that Uber was going to team up with Chinese web giant Baidu for the acquisition, which was allegedly backed by equity firm Apax Partners.

Uber was then beaten by Audi, BMW, and Daimler, who combined to purchase 'Here' maps for €2.8 billion shortly after.

Uber has only been operating legally on Queensland streets since September last year, under new transport reforms that were announced by the state government in August, not long after the state imposed a ban on Uber.

Uber then launched a campaign urging Queenslanders to "fine" the premier for punishing drivers of the ride-booking service who were facing nearly AU$800,000 in penalties as a result of driving after the service was deemed illegal in the sunshine state.

51 Brisbane drivers racked up over AU$120,000 worth of fines during the Labour Day long weekend alone, with transport officers undertaking 78 hours of enforcement activity over the period.

Previously, Bloomberg commented that Uber's investment in mapping technology could accelerate its autonomous car testing, which was recently halted in San Francisco when the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked registrations on the company's 100 self-driving cars following a week long standoff, where Uber refused to obtain particular permits requested by the DMV.

Last week, Uber launched Uber Movement, allowing third parties to access data from all of the trips undertaken on its platform.

The company said preserving rider and driver privacy is its number one priority, and as a result, all data made available on the Uber Movement platform is anonymised and aggregated before being handed out to third parties.