Uber is back on Austin streets — but not for the reason you might think. The ride-hailing company has unleashed a small fleet of high-tech, self-driving cars to map Austin's roadways, a representative told CultureMap.
It's part of a greater initiative by Uber to create an in-house map system instead of relying on a third-party technology like Google Maps.
The development is spearheaded by the company's Advanced Technology Center in Pittsburgh, the first city to get a fleet of Uber mapping cars earlier this year. Since then, the vehicles have rolled out to several cities across the United States and Mexico.
"The street imagery captured by our mapping cars will help us improve core elements of the Uber experience, like ideal pick-up and drop-off points and the best routes for riders and drivers," said Brian McClendon, a former Google Maps big-wig who now heads the mapping efforts at Uber.
The hybrid Ford Fusions come equipped with cameras and surveying equipment, as well as a self-driving mode that will be monitored by a trained driver.
"In the future we believe this [self-driving technology] will mean less congestion, more affordable and accessible transportation, and far fewer lives lost in car accidents," said a statement from Uber.
Uber worked with city officials for the Pittsburgh launch, but there is no word on whether the City of Austin is involved. When Google brought self-driving cars to Austin last year, the tech giant received endorsements from several city officials.
Uber cars may be on the street, but the ride-hailing service is still not operating in the Capital City. Uber, along with Lyft, pulled out of Austin in May when Prop 1 failed. Several new services have entered the market to fill the void.