It’s possible that Google and Uber, two companies which, at least historically, have been friendly, are developing a bit of a rivalry.
Uber has announced a “strategic partnership” with Carnegie Mellon University that will see the creation of the “Uber Advanced Technologies Center” near the school’s campus.
“The center will focus on the development of key long-term technologies that advance Uber’s mission of bringing safe, reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere,” says Uber. More specifically, “mapping and vehicle safety and autonomy technology”.
In other words, Uber is jumping in the self-driving car ring – an arena currently dominated by the folks at Google.
“We are excited to join the community of Pittsburgh and partner with the experts at CMU, whose breadth and depth of technical expertise, particularly in robotics, are unmatched. As a global leader in urban transportation, we have the unique opportunity to invest in leading edge technologies to enable the safe and efficient movement of people and things at giant scale. This collaboration and the creation of the Uber Advanced Technologies Center represent an important investment in building for the long term of Uber,” said Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden.
So, it appears that adding autonomous vehicles to its fleet is part of Uber’s “long-term” goal.
Around the same time Uber was making this announcement, Bloomberg published an exclusive report citing Google’s intentions to take a direct shot at Uber with the formation of its own on-demand car service.
Google is preparing to offer its own ride-hailing service, most likely in conjunction with its long-in-development driverless car project. [Google CFO David] Drummond has informed Uber’s board of this possibility, according to a person close to the Uber board, and Uber executives have seen screenshots of what appears to be a Google ride-sharing app that is currently being used by Google employees. This person, who requested not to be named because the talks are private, said the Uber board is now weighing whether to ask Drummond to resign his position as an Uber board member.
Drummond currently sits on Uber’s board, and Google Ventures has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into Uber in the past. Uber relies on Google Maps. The two are definitely intertwined, and Bloomberg points out that most feel that Google and Uber are obvious partners for a wide range of future endeavors. At least, until now.
Google did provide this somewhat cryptic statement on Twitter, pointed directly at Bloomberg.
@business We think you'll find Uber and Lyft work quite well. We use them all the time.
— Google (@google) February 2, 2015
The Wall Street Journal has put a bit of a wrinkle in the story, however. According to multiple sources cited by the paper, Google’s not really working on an Uber competitor and the whole thing has been “blown out of proportion”.
From the WSJ:
But a person familiar with the matter said news that Google is developing an app to rival Uber has been blown out of proportion. The person said a Google engineer has been testing an internal app that helps Google employees carpool to work, and the app isn’t associated with the company’s driverless cars program.
Two people familiar with the matter said they weren’t aware that Drummond had been asked by anyone to step down and believe he would do so of his own volition if he sees a potential conflict.
Google recently unveiled what it called the “first real build” of its self-driving vehicle prototype.
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