Re/code has just reported that Uber has hired Brian McClendon, the former co-head of Google Maps. McClendon has a storied history in the mapping world having created Keyhole and Google Earth and having marshalled many of the technical developments at Google Maps over the past 10 years. According to Wikipedia he holds 12 Map patents including 7 related to KML.
I understood that he and Jen Fitzpatrick co-ran Google Maps and the Geo technologies at Google. Apparently, last fall, Jen Fitzpatrick was put in sole charge of Maps.
Uber isn’t wasting any time building out a significant mapping and self driving car infrastructure. They are obviously very serious about having gutted the Carnegie Mellon research labs by hiring away many of its engineers earlier this year, acquiring long time mapping, driving direction & routing company DeCarta and having made an offer to purchase Here (aka Navteq) from Nokia.
Horace Deidu has pointed out that creating and operating a mapping company costs $1-$2 billion per year. Because there is obviously little value in licensing of the data there needs to be another model for making money off of the investment. Google does so by selling advertising against the map, Apple by selling devices on which users expect a navigation system. He posits that Uber’s interest reflects a third business model where the large expense of mapping can be supported by transportation services where accurate maps are the key to autonomous vehicles.
Clearly Uber has the resources and they have the chops to make a significant move in Maps. For Apple, Google and now Uber, it appears that a billion or two a year is worth it. But mapping is haaaard…. Particularly at the level of the self driving car and it will not happen overnight. Uber won’t have any easier time of it than it did at Google or Apple.
The implications of the further “privatization” of Maps are not totally clear. Other local search companies and consumers will rely on sole sourced mapping technology that for competitive reasons is kept close to the companies controlling it.
Will our world be a better place for having three companies each dumping $2 billion per year into a Map race, the benefit of which is largely kept for the sole use of the companies acquiring the data?