Uber has already been testing autonomous vehicles on the roads of Pittsburgh, and now it's rolled out a separate fleet of mapping vehicles, too.
After an image appeared on Facebook of an Uber car rigged up with some exotic sensing equipment, the on-demand taxi company admitted to TechCrunch that it's running a fleet of mapping vehicles, and even released the picture above. These aren't autonomous vehicles: they're more akin to the cars that Google has been using for years as part of its StreetView project.
In fact, the systems being used in vehicles were, according to TechCrunch, first designed by Microsoft. That makes some sense: earlier this year, reports suggested that Uber had acquired a number of 'assets' from Microsoft, including somewhere close to 100 staff. It was unclear what those assets were — but an Uber spokesperson now admits that the cars were included.
The same spokesperson also explained to TechCrunch what they were being used for:
"These cars have been on the road for the last several months collecting imagery that will help improve mapping features that are so integral to the Uber experience — such as routing and ETA calculations."
In reality that may not be all they're being used for. Most autonomous vehicles use rich, 3D maps of the road — known as prior maps and created using technologies such as LIDAR — to navigate the city. Uber could, perhaps, be creating them at the same time, though for now that remains pure speculation.
Image by Sidney Reed for Uber / Via sidneyreed.com