Uber Returns the Favor, Buys 2,500 Google Driverless Cars

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Transportation company Uber announced today they plan to buy 2,500 of Google’s automated cars from the search engine giant. Moreover, Uber also plans to give transportation data to Google to help them improve their routing algorithms. The official news comes after a week of speculation about Google’s interest in Uber. It was discovered late last week that Google invested  $250 million in Uber in July. News also broke last week that auto parts maker Continental AG is ready to announce a partnership with Google to build components for their self-driving car. Former Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Lessin also claimed last week that Google isn’t just planning to build the system to power a self-driving car, they’re expecting to make their own car after talks with a major auto maker fell through.

Uber plans to invest up to $375 million in Google’s GX3200 automobiles. This is the third generation of their fleet, but the first to be cleared for commercial use in the United States. Uber runs an app with which users can hire a car in America’s largest cities to ferry them around without having to hail a cab or worry about payment. Uber handles payment between the driver and passenger.  New updates to the app now let multiple riders split up the fare between them.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Uber is getting much more than a fleet of self-driving cars with this deal; they’re also getting the political clout of Google to move them forward into a future filled with autonomous vehicles. Google has so far been able to convince the California government to legalize their driverless vehicles as they test them around Silicon Valley. They also spent $18.2 million on lobbying last year, giving them extra pull with the politicians they support.

Uber seems primed to set up a future wherein users can hail their own car with the tap of a smartphone. Yet, instead of a cab service picking the user up, it will be a car devoid of any driver, a car owned and maintained by Uber itself. The company has already experimented with autonomous cars, but they’ve still asked a driver to climb onboard in case something were to go wrong with the automated system.

The company also plans to have their first fleet of driverless cars in place by the end of 2013 and operating in at least one of their markets. Should all go well, Uber says they could have the service ready to go in ten of their markets before 2014.

With a stake in the company and a large order of cars on their register, Google stands to take away quite a bit of good fortune from Uber. Not only do they have a company willing to buy up 2,500 of their first vehicles to roll off the line, they also have a company willing to share data with them. A data-driven company, Google’s main motivation in anything they do is information. This data is then either used to improve their systems or fuel ads. The information received from driverless cars could likely be used to fuel location-aware advertisements, meaning passengers could one day hear about the deal of the day as they pass by their local burger shop.

Last week a German news source claimed auto parts maker Continental AG was in talks to partner with both Google and IBM to enter into the driverless vehicle market. It is expected the company will simply provide parts for Google’s autonomous vehicles. They’re also expected to work with IBM to build a network wherein these self-driving cars will be able to speak with one another.