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Is Google already the victor in Uber's race for driverless taxis?

February 3, 2015 7:41 PM
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Uber announced Monday it would be opening a research lab to explore driverless technology. The same day, Bloomberg reported Google has been piloting a ride-sharing app. Will this be a clash of the titans or did Google win the battle before it began?

What do a ride-sharing app and a search engine have in common? They both want to bring you driverless taxis.

It was revealed yesterday that Google and Uber are expanding their research and development into each others’ territories. Uber will be researching driverless cars, and Google has been dabbling with a ride-sharing app.

While it is unsure who decided to copy who’s model first, the two companies appear to be headed toward a fierce rivalry.

Monday, on its official blog, Uber announced it would be partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to create the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh. The center’s main focus will be “to do research and development, primarily in the areas of mapping and vehicle safety and autonomy technology.”

Google made no formal announcement, but as Bloomberg reports, David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, who sits on Uber's board of directors, allegedly informed Uber that Google is considering entering the ride-sharing market. The tech giant has also been very vocal about its push for autonomous cars.

For obvious reasons, there are rumors Uber will ask Mr. Drummond to resign from its board of directors.

The screenshots of Google employees testing what appears to be a Google ride-sharing app was sure to challenge Uber executives. While Uber has had a healthy relationship with the technological giant, its dependence may be its downfall in this competition.

Uber’s app relies on Google Maps, which is seen by many as superior to other mapping applications out there. This gives Google an easy leg-up should it decide to create its own taxi service. It need not spend resources developing its own service, since it's prebuilt; Uber is, in fact, improving Google Maps by using it, since its driver data feeds back into Google's traffic reports; and if Uber decides to cut ties with Google, perhaps creating its own maps app, it would need to spend huge amounts of time and money to catch up with where Google is right now.

As if that was not enough to intimidate Uber, Google also holds a very large stake in the company. As Bloomberg reports, Google Venture, the search engine’s venture capital department, poured $258 million into Uber in late 2013 and the same year placed Drummond onto Uber’s board of directors. It was Google Venture’s largest investment deal to date and led many to ponder if Google would one-day add Uber to its collection of acquired start-ups.

This no longer appears to be the case. While both companies declined to comment on their new research, Google appears to be attempting to distance itself from Uber. Last week, the company announced it would allow third party applications to present data on Google Now, a service designed to provide the “fastest, easiest way to find what you need on the web and on your device.” The list included Pandora, AirBnb, Zillow, and Lyft. It was very obvious who did not make the cut, and it had to be a blow to Uber to see its much smaller rival, Lyft, getting priority with its former bestie.

Still, with such a large investment in the ride-sharing company, it would make little sense for Google to crush the app. Google has the potential to make a lot of money off of Uber while still being able to pull the strings. Executives at Uber may have a problem saying "no" to a major investor and service provider when the ride-sharing company heavily relies on that investors support.

While the ride-sharing industry is heating up, Google does not have much to worry about from Uber. Only time will tell who will win the race for the first driverless taxi, but with Uber in its back pocket, Google is certain to fare well no matter what the outcome.


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