Uber’s success in food delivery sector is a “wonderful surprise,” CEO says

As Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi looks to guide the company back to stability after a flurry of corporate upheaval and operational stumbling blocks. Khosrowshahi says the success of the company’s food delivery arm, UberEats, has been a “wonderful surprise,” The New York Times reports.

According to the Times, Uber’s aid UberEats generates more revenue than its ride-hailing operations in certain markets, including Tokyo; Taipei, Taiwan; and Seoul, South Korea. Average daily deliveries grew by a factor of 24 from March 2016 to March 2017.

Uber’s first forays into the food delivery market came in 2014, when UberEats’ predecessor, UberFresh, launched in Los Angeles. Food quality issues born as a result of the way drivers transported the food, along with the limited selection of available restaurants, checked the success of that operation.

In December 2015, UberEverything, the division that handles food delivery and a number of other projects for the company, launched the UberEats app in Toronto. As the service succeeded, it expanded its sales force, partnered with more restaurants and made inroads in additional locations.

Today, UberEats is available in 120 markets. Uber declined to disclose the amount of revenue the service has generated, but the Times says top executives at the company are excited about growth potential in the food delivery sphere.

Several other companies beat Uber to that market, which is worth $100 billion today. Postmates, a delivery service that launched in 2011, employs more than 100,000 drivers, performs 2.5 million deliveries every month, and has raised over $250 million, according to the Times.

GrubHub, another giant in the food delivery sector, has been operational for 13 years, and reported over $3 billion in “gross food sales” in 2016, the Times says. The company serves 8.17 million customers.

GrubHub’s founder and CEO, Matt Maloney, said Uber has spread itself too thin to pose any real threat to his and other established companies within the food delivery sector.

“Uber has built a great company focused on black car service and human transportation, but succeeding in food delivery is a different game,” Maloney said in a statement, per the Times. “We are known for one thing only — takeout ordering — and we have engineered our entire product around this purpose.”

But Uber believes its experience in ride-hailing can translate into a competitive advantage over single-focus companies like GrubHub.

Uber already employs about two million drivers worldwide, the Times says. As UberEats continues to grow, that network will grow as well. As the Times notes, the potential labor pool from which UberEats can pull its employees is wider than that which is available to the company’s ride-hailing business.

While Uber vehicles that carry passengers must meet a laundry list of regulative criteria, guidelines governing the transport of food are more relaxed. In fact, UberEats delivery people are not required to own a car. Many make their deliveries on bikes via a service called UberBike.

Moreover, Uber has spent the last decade or so identifying the most efficient routes from point A to point B in cities all around the world. The company believes it can harness that knowledge to shorten delivery times.

“What Uber has are the last-mile logistics, and that’s crucial,” James Cakmak, an analyst at the equity research firm Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Company who follows the food delivery space, said per the Times.

UberEats has turned to partnerships to further expand its network of available restaurants. In May, the company inked a deal that allowed it to deliver food from over 1,000 McDonald’s locations, the Times says. Lucy Brady, a McDonald’s executive, said in July that the fast-food chain was pleased with the fruits of the alliance so far.

The already-crowded food delivery sector is preparing for the arrival of Amazon, which acquired Whole Foods earlier this year. Many of Whole Foods’ 460 locations already offer a cafeteria-like buffet stocked with freshly prepared food, and Amazon could hire drivers to deliver that food, the Times points out.

Cakmak adds that Amazon, whose business model is based largely on offering the lowest possible prices, has the resources to match or undercut the prices of competitors in the food delivery sphere.

“The number-one concern for all of these delivery companies is Amazon,” he said, per the Times.  “How could Amazon use its network to crush our business? They have the logistical network and the balance sheet to be able to compete on the price side with all of these players.”

Khosrowshahi plans to take Uber public within the next 18 to 36 months.

Featured image via Flickr/Guillermo Fernandes

Lyft nearly triples its coverage across the U.S. 

As Uber takes steps to recover from a string of allegations that called its corporate ethics into question, competing ride-share service Lyft is anxious to establish itself as a viable Uber rival, CNBC reports.

Thursday, Lyft nearly tripled its coverage across the U.S., adding 160 cities—for a total of 350—and 32 states for a total of 40. 94 percent of Americans, the company says, can now hail a Lyft ride in minutes.

The company claims to cover more of the US than any other ride-share service, including Uber.

Uber offers service in about 150 US cities. There are holes in Uber’s coverage across the Southeast—the company offers no service in Arkansas, Mississippi, or West Virginia—and the Northeast—Uber rides are not available in Delaware, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, or Washington, D.C. Uber does not operate in Alaska.

Lyft, by comparison, now serves nine cities in New Jersey, four in New Hampshire, one in Delaware (the state’s capital of Dover), five in Maine, six in West Virginia, and six in Alaska.

Unlike Uber, Lyft lacks service in South Dakota. Neither company serves Arkansas or Mississippi.

Lyft remains well behind Uber in terms of capital, ridership, and breadth of service, CNBC notes. Uber gives 10 million rides per day across more than 80 countries around the globe. Lyft, which operates in the US exclusively, reached one million rides per day in early July.

Since it began in 2009, Uber has raised $14 billion in capital. Lyft, which launched in 2012, has accrued $2.6 billion worth of capital.

But, the gulf between the two companies is narrowing, CNBC notes. Lyft gave more rides in the first half of 2017 than in all of 2016. The company’s share of the US ride-hailing market has jumped from 12 percent to 30 percent over the past two years.

CNBC says Uber continues to grow its ridership, but Business Insider reported in June that Uber’s growth—in revenue as well as in ridership—slowed in the first quarter of this year. Uber, privately held, rarely publishes ridership statistics or financial data.

“We’ve always been the underdog in the race against Uber. We’ve taken a lot of ground. We still are,” Green told CNBC.

Amidst Uber’s many scandals, Lyft is making an effort to double down on its friendly, wholesome public image.

“As we get service levels to parity and pickup times are equal, people prefer using Lyft,” said Green, per CNBC. ”They like that we treat our drivers better. They like that we treat our customers better. And they like that we have a brand that sort of stands for taking care of people, where Uber has done a lot to build the opposite type of brand.”

CNBC spoke to two drivers who each work for both Uber and Lyft in New York City: Syed Manzar and Karim Guernah. Both noticed a change in customers’ attitudes after news broke of Uber’s various scandals.

Nick Raif, who uses Uber and Lyft to hail rides in the Chicago area, told CNBC the unflattering news concerning Uber sometimes prompted him to use Lyft instead. The two companies provide comparable coverage around Chicago, he said.

Raef said he found himself willing to pay an extra dollar or two for Lyft on days when the news surrounding Uber particularly disturbed him.

But, Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research contends per CNBC that moral considerations are of secondary importance to most customers.

“It is so tempting to think Lyft is gaining because people are taking a stand against Uber, but convenience usually trumps morality,” he said.

Uber is making an effort to repair its public image, as well as its relationship with its drivers. In July, the company launched an initiative dubbed “180 days of change.” As part of the effort, Uber aims to increase driver compensation, to offer drivers more flexibility, and to offer better support for drivers in the event of emergencies like accidents or passenger violence

The company, according to CNBC, has hired thousands of drivers to help ease each individual’s work load and has for the first time allowed customers to tip drivers using the app. (Lyft’s app has long afforded customers that ability).

Uber is also regaining stability in its corporate leadership. Tuesday, the company announced that it had at last hired a permanent CEO: Dara Khosrowshahi, who had served as Expedia’s CEO since 2005.

Featured Image via Flickr/Alfredo Mendez

 

Uber settles with FTC, agrees to 20-years of audits

Uber capitulated to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) early this week, agreeing to submit to two decades worth of audits.

The San Francisco-based company will need to implement a privacy program and submit to audits every 2 years for the next 20 years, reports ET Tech. The settlement follows an intense probe from US regulators concerned that Uber has “failed to protect the personal information of drivers and passengers and deceived the public about efforts to prevent snooping by its employees.”

The agreed terms are to ensure the company meets certain FTC requirements.

ET Tech reports the FTC Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen had the following to say in regards to the settlement with Uber: “Our order requires a culture of privacy sensitivity for Uber. It’s going to make them take privacy into account every day.”

Uber’s privacy woes with the government began in 2014. The FTC first began its probe into Uber three years ago after media reports unveiled “God View.” Uber employees used “God View” to monitor their customers’ real-time locations after using the app to hail a ride.

Uber was quick to defend itself after the media firestorm that “God View” unleashed. In 2015, the company claimed it had a “strict policy prohibiting employees from accessing rider and driver data,” ET Tech continues. However, Ben Rossen, an FTC staff attorney, has revealed that in fact, Uber only enforced their claimed “strict policy” for around eight months.

The FTC conducted a separate probe during the same year that “God View” was discovered by the media, investigating a data breach in May of 2014. During the breach, more than 100,000 names and license numbers of Uber’s drivers were stolen.

In response to their investigation of the data breach, the FTC said that Uber “did not take reasonable, low-cost measures that could have helped the company prevent the breach.” One example the agency put forward was that Uber “allowed its engineers and programmers to use a single key that gave them full administrative access to all the data.”

Uber’s current settlement with the FTC is just the company’s latest attempt to move forward after continuing setbacks. For much of 2017, the company has been consumed with sexual harassment allegations, a lawsuit over its autonomous-car designs, and a wave of top executives leaving the company, including the CEO Travis Kalanick. Oh, and an investor lawsuit filed against that same departed CEO as in-fighting between a divided board of directors and angered shareholders increases.

Ohlhausen, who presided over the settlement with Uber, said, “Uber failed consumers in two key ways: first by misrepresenting the extent to which it monitored its employees’ access to personal information about users and drivers, and second by misrepresenting that it took reasonable steps to secure that data,” BBC News reports.

Major Uber shareholder sues former CEO Travis Kalanick

Venture capital firm Benchmark, a prominent Uber investor, is suing the ride-hailing company’s founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick—who, under pressure from Benchmark and other shareholders, resigned as CEO in June amidst a number of scandals—to force him off of the board, Reuters reports via NBC News. The suit claims Kalanick “fraudulently obtained” power of appointment over three of the company’s board seats.

In 2016, the board voted to expand its size from eight to 11 members and gave Kalanick unilateral power to appoint the additional members. He used that power to install himself on the board following his resignation. In the suit, Benchmark, which controls 20% of the board’s voting power, says it would never have voted to allow Kalanick to fill the empty board positions had it been aware of his “gross mismanagement and other misconduct at Uber.”

The suit cites the mishandling of a rape case in which an Uber driver in India was the defendant; Kalanick’s alleged knowledge that an Uber engineer had stolen trade secrets from Google; and Kalanick’s purported creation of a “pervasive culture of gender discrimination and sexual harassment”  as specific examples of that “misconduct.”  The document also alludes to “a host of other inappropriate and unethical directives issued by Kalanick.”

The suit says Kalanick “intentionally concealed” that misconduct from the board so that he could secure the power of appointment for the three open board seats. The document claims Kalanick intends to use that power of appointment to “pack Uber’s Board with loyal allies in an effort to insulate his prior conduct from scrutiny.”

Benchmark invested in a fledgling Uber in 2011 and still owns 13% of the company. Based on privately-held Uber’s $69 billion market capitalization as of 2016, that stake is worth almost $9 billion.

Bill Gurley, Benchmark’s most senior active partner, led the firm’s original investment in Uber, served on the startup’s board for years, and was a mentor and confidant to Kalanick. However, amidst the federal investigation sparked by the sexual harassment allegations, Gurley led the effort to oust Kalanick from the CEO position. On June 21, one day after Kalanick’s resignation became public, Gurley resigned from Uber’s board.

Per CNBC, the suit surprised many investors around Silicon Valley; one called Benchmark’s move toward litigation “the nuclear option.”

Kalanick has released a statement saying the lawsuit “completely without merit and riddled with lies and false allegations,” and accusing Benchmark of  “acting in its own best interests contrary to the interests of Uber.” The statement calls the suit a “transparent attempt to deprive Travis Kalanick of his rights as a founder and shareholder.”

Erik Gordon, an entrepreneurship expert at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, says the maligned former executive has a point with regard to Benchmark’s so-called selfishness.  “Even if you assume that Kalanick acted outrageously improperly, where was Benchmark when he was acting out?” Gordon said, per Reuters. ”Did Benchmark fight tooth and nail against Kalanick’s conduct, or were they willing to put up with it as long as the company’s valuation, and the value of their investment in it, skyrocketed?”

The Benchmark suit is just one of several challenges Uber is facing. Following former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s investigation into the aforementioned sexism allegations, Uber lost several of its top executives. Moreover, many important figures in the company’s hierarchy are making their own decisions to step down. On Thursday, Ryan Graves, Uber’s first employee, announced intentions to step down from his role as head of operations and concentrate on his position as a board member. (According to Reuters, Graves was a steadfast supporter of Kalanick.)

Now, Reuters says, Uber’s leadership consists of a mere 14 people. The effort to fill the vacuum at the top of the company continues, but co-founder and chairman Garrett Camp wrote in a letter to shareholders that Kalanick is “not returning as CEO.”

Uber is also juggling a lawsuit from Alphabet’s Waymo over the aforementioned engineer who allegedly stole trade secrets from Waymo.

Featured image via Flickr/Tech Crunch

SoftBank Looks to Make Inroads Into US Ride-Hailing Sector

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son has indicated intentions to make inroads into the US ride-hailing market with a multi-billion dollar investment in Uber or Lyft, CNN’s Sherisse Pham reports.

At a news conference Monday, Son said his company was “definitely interested” in pursuing a partnership with one of the two ride-hailing operations. Son expects a boom in the ride-hailing industry to accompany the rise of self-driving cars.

“…when that stage comes [i.e. when autonomous cars sponsored by ride-hailing companies hit the streets],” said Son, “this ride share business becomes even more important.”

SoftBank already holds sizable stakes in a host of Asian ride-hailing companies, including China’s Didi Chuxing, India’s Ola, Brazil’s 99, and Singapore’s Grab. According to The Wall Street Journal, Son’s interest in Uber may indicate that he believes the US startup will combine its operations with Ola and Grab

Uber has set a precedent of willingness to partner with local companies in international markets. After a heated competition between Uber and Didi Chuxing ended in a stalemate, Uber agreed to sell its Chinese business to Didi in exchange for a 20% stake in the Chinese company. In July, Uber announced plans to strike a similar deal with Russia’s YandexTaxi.

On July 25, the Wall Street Journal reported that SoftBank was considering investment in Uber, but said negotiations between the two companies were “preliminary and one-sided.” A deal would likely be postponed until Uber appointed a new CEO in the wake of former chief Travis Kalanick’s resignation over sexual harassment allegations in June. The scandal also left the company without a chief operating officer, a general counsel, and an independent board chair, according to Bloomberg. On August 4, The Washington Post reported that Uber’s shortlist for the CEO position had been cut to three people.

The management vacancies, coupled with the increasing success of Lyft, are prompting many early Uber investors to jump ship. Sources told Bloomberg two such investors are negotiating to sell their stakes to larger investment firms.

With a market cap of $89.7 billion, SoftBank is among Japan’s most valuable companies. Its subsidiaries include Sprint, Yahoo! Japan, Myspace Japan, and myriad others.

In May, SoftBank, along with Saudi Arabia, Apple, and others, formed a $100 billion dollar tech fund, called the Vision Fund, that “will focus on investments of more than $100 million in technology businesses of the future,” according to a CNN report. It is unclear whether SoftBank’s investment in Uber or Lyft will be pulled from that fund.

Last Thursday, SoftBank contributed $250 million to Kabbage, a financial technology company based in Atlanta, GA. Kabbage, a next generation lending company, uses an online system to quickly evaluate a small business’s eligibility for a capital loan. According to the company’s website, the evaluation process analyzes business performance as well as credit score, and a customer can gain approval for a loan in less than 10 minutes. The website also says Kabbage has lent more than $3.5 billion dollars worth of funding to more than 100,000 businesses.

Kabbage licenses out its technology to traditional banks who wish to offer automated lending; the program is currently used by banks like Banco Santander SA (SAN.MC), ING Groep NV, and Scotiabank. SoftBank is the first Asian player outside of China to enter the automated lending space.

Son’s press conference on Monday coincided with the release of SoftBank’s quarterly earnings report, in which the company reported $4.33 billion worth of profit—a 50% year-over-year increase. The jump came after SoftBank included the Vision Fund as a reportable segment for the first time.

Profits were further boosted by the success of Sprint, in which SoftBank owns an 80% stake. The cellular service provider reported its first profit in more than three years Monday. SoftBank is considering a potential merger between Sprint and T-Mobile, or between Sprint and Charter Communications Incorporated.

SoftBank’s shares have risen just over 1% since Monday.

Featured Image via Flickr/Nobuyuki Hayashi

Lyft Partners With Taco Bell to Allow Passengers to Order Food With the Push of a Button

If you realize you’re hungry in the middle of a Lyft ride, can you ask your driver to go through a drive-thru? The quandary has plagued hungry passengers ever since the ride-hailing company was established in 2012.

But now Taco Bell has partnered with Lyft to create a feature that allows Lyft customers to request a stop at the late night fast food joint with the push of a button, Kate Taylor of Business Insider reports. Taco Mode, as the beta service is called, will be available on a trial basis in Orange County, CA from July 27-29, and again between August 3rd and 5th. It is slated to go nationwide in 2018.

“We realized that for every person who has asked their Lyft driver to make a pit stop at Taco Bell — and we’ve seen many — there are likely those who weren’t sure if this was possible,” Taco Bell CMO Marisa Thalberg said in a statement. “With the advent of this fantastic partnership with Lyft, we will erase any lingering uncertainty and celebrate the ability to ‘ride-thru’ in Taco Mode.”

Taco Mode will give customers access to a “custom, in-car” menu, and will include a “taco themed car” (whatever that means). Free Doritos Locos tacos will be on the table for Taco Mode users as well.

The service will be available between 9 p.m and 2 a.m., making it the perfect option for those who, whether due to fatigue, intoxication, or some combination of the two, are unable or unwilling to pursue more complicated avenues of obtaining food. Taco Bell serves almost 15 percent of its customers between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., according to Taylor, and Taco Mode will give the fast food chain another means of reaching the key late-night eater demographic.

Uber, arguably Lyft’s chief competitor in the ride-hailing space, launched its UberEats service, which allows customers to get food delivered via Uber, in August 2014. Today, it is available in 50 cities across North America, as well as in select locales in South America, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa.

“The UberEATS app,” Uber’s website says, “connects you with a broad range of local restaurants and food, so you can order from the full menus of your local favorites whenever you want.” Once a customer orders, an Uber driver brings the food directly to the customer’s address, typically within 35 minutes, the site claims.

Lyft is entering the food delivery space from a different angle, and the niche is in demand amongst restaurants as well as customers.

Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol told Business Insider in April that taco delivery was the “number one request” amongst Taco Bell customers. The restaurant chain has made various efforts to fulfill that demand, including partnering with DoorDash, a service similar to UberEats, but in all cases, Niccol said, “the third party folks, the aggregators — they’re just not fast enough.” Presumably, Taco Bell declined to partner with UberEats because it, too, was not fast enough.

With Lyft’s Taco Mode, though, the food does not have to travel far before it reaches the customer’s mouth: at the most, the driver has to hand it to his fare in the back seat, who may have to wait a minute before the food is cool enough to eat.

In the food service space, Lyft is taking steps to differentiate itself from Uber. The competition increases consumers’ options: if a person gets hungry while lounging around at home watching a movie, he/she can order from UberEats. If someone wants to eat a hot meal in the car on the way home from the bar, he/she can use Lyft’s Taco Mode.

The only real downside is that Lyft drivers everywhere will end up with sauce on their seats and crumbs on their floorboards.

Disability Rights Advocacy Organization Files Class Action Suit Against Uber

On Tuesday, Disability Rights Advocates, on behalf of a litany of advocacy groups and individuals, filed a class action discrimination lawsuit against Uber in Manhattan’s State Supreme Court, Winnie Hu of The New York Times reports.

The suit claims Uber does not provide adequate service for passengers with disabilities. Of the 58,ooo Uber cars on New York City streets, it alleges, less than 100 are accessible, uberWAV vehicles, which are generally equipped with lift equipment and/or ramps. Moreover, such cars are routinely dispatched to service customers without disabilities.

As a result, wait times for customers who require UberWAV service are prohibitively long. Valerie Joseph, a wheelchair user who commutes from Queens to Brooklyn for her job, told The New York Times she no longer uses Uber, though the service would be useful to her.

“Even when an UberWAV vehicle is technically available,” the lawsuit says, “because so few exist, there are typically frequent and lengthy delays…[Therefore,] people who use wheelchairs and use UberWAV must contend with missed appointments, being late for events and other stress and inconvenience.”

The suit asks the court to order Uber to “develop and implement a remedial plan to ensure full and equal access to its services for riders who require accessible transportation.”

Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang argues that the company has already taken steps to do just that. Uber provides incentives to drivers of wheelchair accessible cars, including a $10 bonus for each completed trip and a reduced commission fee. The company proposed a 5 cent surcharge on luxury trips which would have gone to the state to be used to encourage other transportation companies to provide accessible options.

“Uber’s technology has expanded access to reliable transportation options for all riders,” Ms. Anfang said. “While there is certainly more work to be done, we will continue advocating for a solution that offers affordable, reliable transportation to those who need a wheelchair accessible vehicles.”

Plaintiffs have been successful in similar cases. In 2011, an advocacy organization called the Taxis for All Campaign sued New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission for failing to provide adequate access to disabled passengers. At that point, just under 2% of the city’s taxis could accommodate wheelchairs.

After a lengthy legal battle, the parties settled out of court in 2013. The TLC agreed to make 50% of its yellow taxis accessible by 2020.

In April, a similar class action suit was brought against the Metropolitan Transport Authority, claiming New York City’s subways were among the least accessible public transportation systems in the nation, The New York Times’ Eli Rosenberg reported in April. Rosenberg says “more than 75 percent of the city’s 472 subway stations do not have elevators, lifts or other methods that make them accessible for people who use wheelchairs, mobility devices or are otherwise unable to use stairs.”

The plaintiffs in that case did not request financial compensation, but asked the court to require the MTA to improve its elevator maintenance procedures and to develop a long-term plan to increase accessibility. No information was available concerning the current status of that case.

In September, the TLC will hold a public hearing regarding its separate proposal calling for stricter ADA compliance amongst For Hire Vehicle companies throughout the industry. “The change,” according to an official statement by the TLC, “would require all FHV [For Hire Vehicle] Bases to send 25% of their dispatched trips to wheelchair accessible vehicles.”

A host of accessibility-based lawsuits have come through New York’s legal system in the past year, and the city is poised to make great strides toward becoming one of the nation’s most accessible major cities, especially in the transportation arena.

If the class action suit against Uber is successful in New York, advocacy groups and disabled individuals throughout the country may bring similar suits against the mega-popular ride-hailing service. In fact, this suit could compel Uber to change its accessibility practices across the country.

Featured Image via Flickr/Mark Warner

 

Uber-Yandex Ride-Sharing Merger in Russia

Uber and Yandex have agreed to a merger of their ride-sharing businesses in Russia and five eastern European markets with Yandex. This is the second withdrawal on Uber’s global presence since their exit from China a year ago. Yandex, which is essentially the “Google of Russia,” will be the leading partner in this newly established company.

Yandex and Uber both stated that they will join together in Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Kazakhstan through a new company operating in 123 cities. Uber will invest $225 million into the company, owning 36.6 percent of the company. Yandex on the other hand will be investing $100 million into the new company, but owning 59.3 percent of the company. The remaining 4.1 percent will be held by employees according to a fully diluted basis.

Uber will also be contributing its UberEATS food delivery business into the merger venture, which will act under the joint company in the 6 previously mentioned countries. Despite Uber’s influence as a global ride-sharing company, Yandex holds a more dominant position in the specified regions, providing services including Web search, maps and mobile navigation in the region.

Uber’s position has significantly weakened as more competition has developed as well as the scandals resulting in Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigning from his position. Instead of trying to adapt and dominate each market around the world, Uber is better off allying itself with local players that dominate their fields to compensate for the over encompassing regulations that Uber was originally responsible for upholding. This does not absolve Uber of ensuring their drivers and riders are protected and fairly treated, but instead of controlling the specific regulations, Uber will be in charge of supervising that the proper regulations are being managed by its partner companies.

While some may view the ratio between what Uber is investing and the percentage of ownership of the new company they are receiving is unfair, but it is in fact beneficial for Uber in the long run. The partner company is responsible for everything beside operations, and all Uber has to focus on in these new developments are the operations themselves. Uber in fact saves on logistics costs, and grant themselves a powerful platform to spread its services throughout regions that are otherwise impenetrable by foreign businesses. While Uber’s position within the new company is up to the discretion of Yandex, 36.6 percent is not an insignificant portion that does provide Uber with some leeway.

In this relationship, Yandex will be controlling the direction of the proverbial ship that is the new company, and it is up to Yandex that the environment either maintains a status quo or proves beneficial for the new company, so that it can continue its operations. UberEATS is a helpful tool in ensuring that even when the drivers are not working with riders, they are still maintaining a revenue stream through food delivery.

It will be interesting to see if more countries follow suit in establishing a merger with Uber. Local companies can use Uber as proof of a powerful global business partner, further establishing and improving the local company’s reputation. As long as rates are competitive, the ride-sharing and food delivery components that Uber provides can act as free publicity and a fairly dependable revenue stream.

One thing to keep in mind are the recent news involving Uber, and whether establishing a partner relationship will in fact diminish the partner company’s reputation, as one interpretation is that through partnership the company in fact condones the behavior exhibited by Uber drivers and the reaction to criticism.

Considering the increase in ride-sharing companies even within the U.S., maybe Uber will consider new mergers with local companies, should mergers become an established business practice that’s proves profitable for Uber.

Passengers Outraged Over Paying Uber Fare

Wisconsin couple Keith and Audra Tubin will need to pay almost $900 for an Uber fare on Monday. The Tubins used Uber to ride to a music festival last week and found out afterward that they would be needing to pay a tremendous bill. The Tubins believe themselves to have been overcharged, while Uber has responded by saying that the bill matches the expected price per mile, and therefore the Tubins must pay the fare.

Summerfest is a popular event that attracts thousands of people, and considering the nature of the event and how busy it is, many participants travel there by others means than their own vehicles. Uber is one option for transportation, and a service the Tubins have used regularly in the past.

After driving to their first spot, which was priced at around $200, Keith Tubin asked their Uber driver to drive to a couple more places. Multiple destinations with a single Uber driver is a commonly used feature, which has the customer enter in a new address once the first destination is reached. The price is matched according to the set price per miles at a time, which may be subject to change based on time and need. After reaching their final destination, the total accumulation of miles is priced, and the fare price is charged to the bank that owns the customer’s inputted credit card number.

Keith Tubin reports that upon waking up the next morning he faced a fraud alert on his credit card due to a charge of $898. Needless to say, the Tubins were shocked and did not understand how the fare had reached such a high price. Keith Tubin recounts how the initial fare was priced at $215 to an address on 55th Street in Milwaukee, and that they then added a stop on the East Side and two more stops in Brookfield. Keith Tubin firmly stated that the driver never told them how much the journey was going to cost.

Communications through e-mail with Uber reveal that the surge price was 8.6 times the normal cost, which means there was a high demand for Uber drivers at the time, which naturally drives up the price. Uber further states that the upfront price is no longer relevant once the new stops were added. Uber’s ruling of the bill was that after review the fare was in line with their estimates for a journey from the pickup location to the destination at the surge price. The fare has not been adjusted, much to the dismay of the Tubins.

When we think of corporate social responsibility, naturally the burden of responsibility lies on the corporations. There is often a contractual agreement implied that the corporations have taken the necessary steps to ensure that a product or service is safe, properly maintained and that all information regarding the product or service is accurate and represented. More often than not, corporations will take responsibility by paying the relevant legal fees and any refundable depending on context, because it is in their best interest to maintain a positive relationship with their customers. Without customers, businesses are unable to function, and given that customers usually have the power of choice, businesses would go above and beyond to ensure their relationship and reputation with customers is positive.

However, there are occasions when the customer is responsible, and these are times when it is necessary to accept the consequences of the implied social contract. If one fails to read the fine print such as surge prices or how the upfront price changes once stops are added, and this information is readily available for the customer to see, then the passenger is responsible for paying the price even if they do not like it. Customers make a contract with Uber drivers that they will be transported to their destination for a complimentary price, meaning that the Tubins need to pay the bill. If corporations were always responsible for every issue, then corporations would be open to being taken advantage of, resulting in a far greater loss than if they paid compensation.

While the Tubins “could have rented a limo for the whole night and had room for other people” while still saving money, they decided to take an Uber ride to four separate destinations during a high surge price. Now the Tubins need to pay their Uber bill.

Alphabet Accuses Uber of Cover Up

Alphabet have accused Uber of covering up the theft of trade secrets from Alphabet. Uber drew Alphabets attention after it acquired the self-driving startup Otto, a business founded by Anthony Levandowski, who previously led Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle business. Alphabet claims that Levandowski stole 14,000 proprietary files before leaving to start Otto, and are now suing Uber over allegations the ride-hailing startup misappropriated that technology.

Uber has responded by laying out their case to prove Alphabet’s allegations of the theft of trade secrets are false. Uber claims that Levandowski neither told anyone at Uber that he had downloaded any proprietary information from Alphabet, nor was asked to do so by Uber executives. Uber reinforces their position by stating the great lengths they took to deter Levandowski from bringing any information over from Alphabet, including a clause in Levandowski’s employment agreement that prohibited from doing so.

Uber further states that Alphabet has no evidence that any of the 14,000 proprietary files came to Uber, and that Alphabet is resorting to accusations of a cover-up theory that has been rejected by a Court ruling.

Alphabet continues to claim that Uber are covering up the theft of trade secrets by firing Levandowski only after their actions were exposed in litigation. The case’s presiding judge, William Alsup, hypothesized Uber likely knew or should have known that Levandowski had taken the files, considering the inclusion of a clause in Levandowski’s employment agreement preventing him from sharing the information. On the other hand, Alsup has said that Alphabet has failed to provide strong evidence that Levandowski brought the files to Uber for the express purpose of utilizing the technology.

Uber’s response has been slightly controversial, as two released statements seemingly contradict one another. In the first statement, Uber argued that it had no reason to suspect Levandowski of having deliberately downloading any files for improper use. The files that Levandowski did have on his person at the time of his hiring were just random files he had obtained incidentally over the course of his employment at Alphabet. On the other hand, Uber’s second statement highlights that Levandowski was holding onto files as leverage to obtain a bonus Alphabet had been slow to pay out.

Alphabet argues there was a conspiracy considering that Levandowski downloaded files from Waymo on the same day he met with Uber executives, reporting that after Levandowski’s meeting he downloaded the 14,000 files.

Uber’s position on this issue is unsteady because on one hand, they had no idea that Leveandowski had downloaded the 14,000 files, and that any files he had were random files that were not directly related to the autonomous vehicle technology Waymo uses. But Uber have reported that they specifically stated in the employment agreement that Levandowski was not to use any information illegally obtained from Alphabet, and that they knew Levandowski was planning to use the files as leverage.

But there is also a third option possible: Levandowksi as an individual was responsible for downloading the files in the hopes of either establishing employment with Uber, or as leverage over Alphabet. Uber is not responsible for the theft of trade secrets, as long as they acquiring of Otto was a business venture and not a means to access the trade secrets. In this situation, the burden of responsibility lies of Levandowski, who has been fired for not agreeing to cooperate with the suit.

Alphabet’s reaction and persistent dispute with Uber could also be seen as the seizing of an opportunity to reap benefits from a company that is already has a damaged public perception. In this case, the accusation of a cover up is only a means to reduce competition, and it therefore not justified in terms of ethical business practice.

Featured Image via Wikimedia

Uber Reaches Tipping Point

In light of recent events concerning Uber, most significant of which is Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, taking a leave of absence in order to quell corporate behavior news reports, Uber has reported a series of changes that it has named the 180 days of change in order to help re-brand and help redesign Uber’s business model. Among the intended changes is the introduction of tipping Uber drivers, a practice that has not for the first time been met with controversy.

Uber’s stance on tipping has for the longest time rejected including tipping based on the consequences affecting both drivers and riders that may occur, including but not limited to drivers discriminating against poorer neighborhoods in favor of wealthier neighborhoods and higher tips, or drivers being rewarded different tipping amounts for the same work due to the personal preference of riders. It is clear that including tipping changes both the business model as well as the quality of service, and not necessarily for the better. This leads to the question, why include tipping, especially considering the tension that resulted in Kalanick taking a leave of absence?

Financial gain is the driving stimulator behind introducing tipping. Despite having a significantly stronger first quarter this year compared to the first quarter of 2016, the poor publicity since has had a detrimental effect, with a lower annual growth of 40 percent compared to 2016’s 55 percent, and a decreased market share throughout the first quarter. Tipping helps compensate driver salaries without extra cost of behalf of Uber, as these will be covered by the customer instead. In doing so Uber can increase its profit margin, but is contingent on the riders adequately compensating the drivers. If done correctly, Uber will greatly benefit from tipping and help stabilize itself against its competition, and the drivers will see more flexibility and potential earnings.

Speaking of competition, Uber’s current market competitor Lyft, a similar company on a smaller scale that provides the same services. Lyft already includes tipping in their business model, providing riders with predetermined tipping amounts or the ability to choose their own. The fact that Uber’s main competitor already utilizes tipping, and that has been utilized effectively, suggests another reason for why Uber wishes to introduce tipping into their own business model. Uber is essentially missing out on a large amount of potential revenue on the expectations that it would prove too controversial and prove a detriment. But if another company can use it effectively, then it is understandable that Uber re-evaluates their stance on tipping, considering the benefits that can arise out of tipping.

One concern that needs to be addressed is the loss of a competitive edge that lacking tipping provides. Riders have expressed disdain for tipping, often preferring to opt for an upfront, fair amount, rather than need to adjust tips based on the performance of drivers. One can argue that it provides riders with more control over the quality of services rendered, as a low performance results in a poor tip. However, this is not necessarily true, based on the considerations previously mentioned concerning neighborhoods. Furthermore, Uber already has an established service rating system, and the inclusion of tipping either makes the former redundant, or prove that it is ineffective.

Uber has highlighted that the tipping service will be rolled out slowly, starting in several cities including Seattle, Minneapolis and Houston, to test the benefits and reception of tipping, and only if the results are positive will Uber then implement a larger scale of the tipping function. Tipping is currently considered the most impactful of Uber’s prospective changes; let us see whether Uber changes will prove beneficial.

Featured Image via Wikimedia

Flying Taxis and the Future of Uber

The future for Uber is all about looking up as the company announced its plan Tuesday at its Elevate Summit in Dallas, Texas to introduce series of aerial taxis to be tested for use. The project will be a collaboration with Aurora Flight Sciences to create the initial vehicles by 2020.

The two companies are planning to build on the idea to create the “Uber Elevate Network” which is their larger plan of extending Uber’s services to air travel. The use of a flying taxi service is a major step into the future of urban living.

Air taxis aim to cut down on automobile traffic while shortening transportation time. The service would represent a move towards greater human efficiency and has been likened to the invention of skyscrapers. This technology is a new example of humans saving space by moving off of the ground and into the sky.

Although casually called “flying taxis” the vehicles are properly referred to as electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, terms which describe their helicopter-like movement. This technology is being adapted to be as noiseless as possible and to have zero-emissions. They will also come with systems to avoid in-air collisions to enhance safety.

The eVTOL designs are based on the prototypes for the XV-24A X-plane project. Aurora has already been researching and developing this project in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

Uber’s announcement of its plans is perhaps an attempt to escape the controversies which have recently surrounded the company. It has not been long since Uber faced claims of iPhone users being tracked by the app even after its removal from their phones.

Trump’s immigration ban led to trouble for the company as well when Uber continued offering rides to JFK airport in the days following the ban. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance had declared a ban on transportation to and from the airport out of solidarity for the people who were held there by Trump’s order. Uber’s continuation of service infuriated many and the #DeleteUber movement gained momentum.

Furthermore, Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO, raised eyebrows for screaming at his driver and later admitting that he needed help with his management of the company. Kalanick and the company both received criticism after the incident.

However, the company is looking forward. Uber and Aurora plan to test vehicles in Dallas, Texas and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. They have already successfully flown one vehicle and hope to continue to make improvements.

The project is hoped to take a different turn than Uber’s recent attempts at the creation of self-driving cars. They have been forced to cease testing for the time being in response to both a crash during a test in Arizona as well as a lawsuit with Waymo over intellectual property rights.

If everything goes as planned the Uber Elevate Network will have approximately 50 vehicles ready for testing by 2020. The taxis will be available upon demand and charge a similar amount of fair to current Uber rides.

The coming years will be an exciting experiment not only for the company but for the effects of eVOLT use on transportation. The old idea of a future with flying cars may not be as far from 2017 as anyone thought.

Uber Announces a Loss of $2.8 Billion for 2016

Uber announced a gross of $20 billion for the year of 2016, which is double what the company made just the year before. After its drivers took their share, the company’s net revenue was an estimated $6.5 billion for the entire year. However, that rapid growth did not come without a price.

In fact, the company says that in the year of 2016 it lost over $2.8 billion. That money does not include its business in China that it sold in the middle of the year. Before Uber sold its China business to Didi Chuxing in the summer, it has already stated that it was losing over a billion in China.

While this loss is big by any company’s standards, Uber still managed to grow its sales in the second half of the year. It did this all while keeping is losses constant.

Uber is a privately-owned company and therefore it does not have to publicly report its finances. This moment of financial disclosure could be the company’s attempt to boost morale for the employees as well as those who have invested in the company. It would also help boost consumer’s confidence in Uber.

It was just recently that the company faced a lawsuit from Alphabet Waymo who insists that Uber’s self-driving technology was pilfered by a few Google employees. Just over a week ago, Uber finally released a statement against Waymo’s accusations. Basically, Uber says that Waymo is wrong.

Uber claims that all the self-driving technology it uses has been acquired legally through other sources. However, Waymo has taken its case to judge saying that Uber’s current executive stole over 14,000 documents before leaving Google to join Uber. Uber continues to investigate the matter by searching computers and other devices of its employees.

This announcement of the company’s high numbers could also be a great way to assure consumers that Uber is doing well despite the minor hiccups the company has had in the courtroom and on the road. Not long ago, an Uber autonomous vehicle was in an accident with another car.

The accident, though proved not to be the self-driving vehicles fault but that of the driver that failed to yield to the Uber vehicle, caused Uber to halt all its testing. The company stopped the test of its self-driving vehicles while the accident was further investigated. Once it was proved to have been the other driver’s error, Uber was quick to start their engines once more.

There is also a further investigation in response to an Uber employee who claims that when they worked for the company they experienced not only harassment but sexism. Yet despite all the negative things that have been happening for the company, it’s still pushing through and is continuing its race towards a fully autonomous vehicle.

A spokesperson for Uber, Rachel Holt who is also the regional manager for U.S. and Canada, said, “We’re fortunate to have a healthy and growing business, giving us the room to make the changes we know are needed on management and accountability, our culture and organization, and our relationship with drivers.”

Waymo Still Insists That Uber’s Self-Driving Technology is Stolen

Things between Uber and Alphabet’s Waymo, have only begun to get heated. Just this Friday, Uber made a long-awaited response about the lawsuit that Waymo filed against it. Waymo sued Uber for stealing its self-driving technology. Uber, on the other hand, says that’s just not true.

This Friday, Uber announced in a statement that there’s no way it could have pilfered Waymo’s technology. Uber’s reason for not needing Waymo tech? It says that it’s still using off-the-shelf technology for its own autonomous vehicle testing. Uber calls the lawsuit an utter “misfire.” Yet in doing so, it was forced to swallow its pride and admit that Google self-driving tech is a bit superior to its own.

The lawsuit began in late February when Waymo made accusations that Anthony Levandowski stole over 14,000 confidential documents. Levandowski is a former Google engineer and current executive at Uber. Waymo says that Levandowski used the pilfered documents to entice Uber into buying his autonomous start-up vehicle, Otto. Uber bought the self-driving truck for $680 million only six months after it was launched in 2016.

Since then, Uber simply called the allegations “baseless”, and hasn’t made any statement on the matter until now. Angella Padilla, who is general counsel to Uber, said that, “If Waymo genuinely thought that Uber was using its secrets, it would not have waited more than five months to seek an injunction.”

Uber has since searched Levandowski’s computer, computers of “randomly selected” employees, and the computers of two former Alphabet employees. In its search, Uber says that only one of the 14,000 documents were found. Wyamo wasn’t too convinced and even called the search inadequate. The judge overseeing the case agreed with Waymo and ordered that Uber search harder.

Waymo then attempted to file an injunction against Uber’s use of the cars that contain allegedly stolen technology. This would significantly impact Uber’s autonomous testing. Uber’s driverless cars are everywhere. The company has vehicles like the Volvo XC90 SUVs, which are equipped with LIDAR cameras, sensors, and other self-driving tech, in Pittsburgh and Arizona.

Uber also responded to Waymo’s request for an injunction. It claimed that Waymo hasn’t yet to arrive at the threshold needed for the courts to approve the injunction. It’s also sticking to the belief that Waymo’s accusations are just plain untrue. Padilla said, “Waymo doesn’t meet the high bar for an injunction, which would stifle our independent innovation — probably Waymo’s goal in the first place.”

Uber says that the LIDAR technology it uses for its autonomous vehicles was developed over a year before the company hired Levandowski. Uber also says that the LIDAR sensors they use are muli-lens and not single-lens like Waymo’s. Uber sensors, the company insisted, are purchased off-the-shelf from Velodyne.

These accusations of Uber using stolen technology could hit the company right in the gut. If Uber can develop its autonomous technology enough to make the majority of its cars driverless, it could increase profit. Then it would be able to cut down on its fares and increase demand.

But things aren’t looking too good for Uber. Levandowski invoked his Fifth Amendment right which allows him to avoid self-incrimination. That was a decision made against Uber’s lawyer’s advice. Lior Ron, who helped Levandowski co-found Otto, was also named in the lawsuit.

Finally, it would appear that Uber desires to move the lawsuit case into arbitration. Its argument is that since Levandowski is the center of Waymo’s accusations, as well as a former employee, it should be allowed into an arbitration agreement. This is a clever request on Uber’s part. It would allow the company to avoid the embarrassing and expensive jury trial that is scheduled to begin in October.

Waymo’s spokesperson said in a statement,

“Uber’s assertion that they’ve never touched the 14,000 stolen files is disingenuous at best, given their refusal to look in the most obvious place: the computers and devices owned by the head of their self-driving program. We’re asking the court to step in based on clear evidence that Uber is using, or plans to use, our trade secrets to develop their LIDAR technology, as seen in both circuit board blueprints and filings in the State of Nevada.”

 

Uber Resumes Its Self-Driving Tests

It was just a few days ago that an Uber autonomous SUV was involved in a crash that caused the company to halt all testing of its self-driving vehicles. Yet no more than a day later, Uber says that it will resume testing in Pittsburgh and Arizona starting on Monday.

In Tempe, Arizona, a car and an Uber self-driving SUV were in an accident due to the other vehicle failing to yield to the Uber car. No one was hurt during the accident, but the Uber SUV was flipped onto its side. The other car sustained a good deal of damage as well, including smashed windows and dents along the body.

Immediately following the incident, Uber announced that there would be a halt in testing at all three of its sites which include San Francisco, California, Pittsburgh, and Arizona. San Francisco was the first of its sites to resume testing and the other two followed suit quickly.

San Francisco has a rocky relationship with Uber and its self-driving tests. While the company is allowed to test the vehicles in the city, it isn’t allowed to pick up passengers. The only two cars, both Ford Fusions equipped with autonomous gear, that are used in the city are manually operated and used for mapping.

Uber made an attempt to start their self-driving tests in San Francisco back in December. However, the California DMV was not a big fan of the autonomous vehicles and the fact that they would be driving around human passengers. Yet when Uber failed to obtain an autonomous vehicle testing license, it made it all too easy for the DMV to revoke registrations for all 16 of Uber’s autonomous cars.

So the self-driving Volvo XC90 SUV was sent to Arizona for testing instead of staying in San Francisco where Uber had hoped to put it on the road.

Uber started testing self-driving cars in Arizona just one week before it took its autonomous journey to California. Yet Uber ran into a few speed bumps during the first few weeks of its Arizona testing when one of its cars was caught on a traffic camera running a red light. Uber later made a response to the incident saying that it was due to “human error”, yet it was later discovered that not only had the car been driving itself, but it never recognized the red light or a few others that it ran.

Uber has had to dodge quite a few obstacles on its way to the top of the list in producing a fully autonomous vehicle. Not only does it have to claw past large companies like Ford and General Motors, but it has to deal with competitors with which it’s had a rocky past. One big one is Waymo Alphabet Inc., who accused Uber of stealing their design for lidar, a key sensor that aids in the detection of objects.

Uber refutes these claims even as Waymo filed an injunction to stop all of Ubers self-driving tests as well as use of its autonomous technology. Uber seems to have no plans to let that incident, as well as the one in Arizona, stop it from continuing the testing of its vehicles.

Arizona Crash Causes Uber to Momentarily Halt Its Autonomous Testing

Uber stopped all testing of its self-driving vehicles in Tempe, Arizona after one of the autonomous cars was involved in a three-car collision. Although there were no injuries sustained in the crash, the Uber vehicle was turned on its side during the accident and the other car appeared to sustain the majority of the damage.

It’s reported by a source that another car failed to yield to the Uber vehicle.  Uber did say that here was a person behind the wheel of the autonomous car, but was unclear about whether the person was driving or not.

Uber’s test of its autonomous vehicles started in Pittsburgh just last year. It didn’t take long for the company to expand its testing of future self-driving vehicles to Arizona. Yet not all cities and states were accepting of the testing. In fact, San Francisco doesn’t allow the autonomous cars on the roads after the California Department of Motor Vehicles banned the testing of Uber self-driving vehicles earlier in the Winter.

Uber’s self-driving tests were meant as a show of the companies continuing development of the new technology. Since it is one of many car companies who are currently in the race to produce a fully autonomous car in the next few years, Uber has continued to expand and further test its autonomous technology on car and SUVs alike.  However, Uber has had to dodge a few pot holes along the way. Waymo Alphabet Inc., who is also testing its own version of the self-driving car, sued Uber’s Otto unit the beginning of this year. The reason? Waymo claims that Uber stole the design for the device known as lidar which is a key component when it comes to autonomous vehicle technology.

Uber scuffed at the suit and dismissed it claims, calling them “baseless.”

This isn’t the first incident that Uber has been under scrutiny for. During the first few test runs that involved live human passengers, an Uber autonomous car was caught running a red light. Uber claimed that the incident was to be blamed on human error but further investigation proved that in Ubers reports the company noted that the car simply didn’t recognize the red light. Or five other lights after it.

Even though the Uber SUV accident that occurred this Friday proved no harm to any human involved, the incident itself shadows the scrutiny of Uber and its CEO. The company and its CEO Travis Kalanick are receiving accusations of sexist treatment in the workplace, as well as illegal performances.

The New York Times stated earlier this month that Uber was suspected of using a tool called Greyball. Greyball, it’s alleged, was used by Uber drivers to avoid not only law enforcement officials but government regulations.

After Bloomberg posted a video of Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver, the CEO admitted that he could use just a little bit of “leadership help.”

Ford Invests $1 Billion in Self-Driving Technology

Ford Motor Co. has decided to jump head first into the self-driving car craze that is sweeping through automakers who want to be the first to come out with the perfect autonomous vehicle. From Tesla to Honda, automakers are doing all they can to further develop their autonomous technology that will one day soon be the future of driving.

Ford recently announced that it will be investing over $1 billion into its future self-driving car. That amount, the company noted, will span out over five years toward the development of start-up technology for autonomous vehicles which has been given the name, Argo AI.

Brian Salesky, who was a Google car veteran no too long ago, and Uber engineer Peter Rander co-founded Argo AI. Salesky left Google’s car program which it renamed Waymo just last fall. When asked why he wanted to start a company with Rander, who he meet at Carnegie Mellon University, Salesky said it was due to the fact that there are “incredible advancements in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and computer vision, but we just needed a partner to get these cars into the hands of millions of people.”

And Ford was more than happy to be that partner. In fact, this type of early stage investment not only shows Ford’s eagerness for automakers and technology companies to join forces in order to provide autonomous cars that will be used every day by consumers.

Ford CEO Mark Fields told a source that, “The reason for the investment is not only to drive the delivery of our own autonomous vehicle by 2021 but also to deliver value to our shareholders by creating a software platform that can be licensed to others.”

Ford joins the ranks with those like Uber who signed a $300 million partnership with Volvo in the development and testing of its version of a fully autonomous vehicle. Even Fiat, who has partnered with Waymo, is working to produce a self-driving Pacifica hybrid minivan. Waymo also announced that in the near future it hopes to sell its technology to other automakers.

Self-driving cars aren’t just something that’s becoming popular in the United States. China’s automaker Baidu had hopes of jumping on the self-driving bandwagon by partnering up with BMW, yet the deal fell through due to differences in the course of the project’s final outcome.

Yet here on the home front, Ford will be busy attempting to figure out what exactly makes the brain of a fully autonomous car tick. The process involves computer algorithms that will have to process data that comes from a series of sensors for things like radars and cameras.

The Detroit automaker already has engineers that are working in this area yet will join forces with Argo AI. Argo AI also says that it has plans to hire at least 200 new engineers by the end of this year.

However, the path to technological innovation has a few pot holes. As many automakers begin to test out their inventions, more regulations for autonomous vehicles stand in the way.

Last year’s Department of Transportation chief Anthony Foxx along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) composed guidelines that would form a set of rules for driving autonomous cars.

Uber ran into problems when testing its autonomous vehicle in California some time ago. The company was told by the Department of Motor Vehicles that since its vehicle was not properly registered it would be able to test it out on the roads. Uber says that since the incident it’s currently working with the DMV to sort out the matter.

Michigan launched its own self-driving test as well. Back in December, the governor signed a proposal that would allow auto and tech companies to test their autonomous vehicles which would be without a steering wheel, human driver, or pedals. Michigan’s proposal is a complete opposite of California’s which only allows autonomous testing if a human is present in the vehicle.

Elaine Chao, who is the new Department of Transportation chief, hasn’t expressed her feelings on the guidelines for autonomous vehicles just yet. However, Ford’s CEO Mark Fields recently met with President Trump along with other automakers and seems more than enthusiastic about the future instore for the set standards of autonomous vehicles.

He commented that the “NHTSA understands the economic, social and safety benefits of AV (autonomous vehicles). Our approach is to make sure we develop one national standard, not 50 states with 50 sets of rules.”

Uber Ignites Rivalry By Hiring Former Google Head of Search

Amit Singhal announced on Friday that he planned to join Uber as senior vice president for engineering. Previously, Singhal worked at Google for 15 years, working his way up to senior vice president for search. He was Google’s 176th employee, and is credited as one of the engineers responsible for building the smarter and faster search engine, giving the company an overwhelming advantage in web search.

Singhal’s role at Uber will involve building out the software and infrastructure at the foundation of the company’s ride-share services. He will report to Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick, and will spearhead the ride-hailing company’s mapping and dispatch units. Singhal will also be responsible for marketing and pricing Uber cars. Singhal’s new role also involves advising Anthony Levandowski, who is in charge of Uber’s autonomous driving efforts.

Singhal recently shared his own views on his new job. In a personal blog post on Friday, he wrote, “It’s hard enough to connect millions of drivers to millions of riders in real time while creating optimal routes for drivers. Add the to the twist of predicting real-time traffic, pooling multiple riders and making the system economically attractive for everyone–and now you have one of the most challenging computer science problems I’ve encountered in my 30-year career.”

Singhal is not the only former Google employee poached by Uber; over the last seven years, they have enlisted several high-level employees, including Brandon McClendon and Anthony Levandowski, mapping expert and autonomous driving research veteran, respectively. The ride-sharing company has been transparent in its ambition to overtake Google in autonomous driving, going as far as to publicly state as much. Google, on its part, has also taken a number of Uber employees; David Drummond left the Uber board of directors and joined Google as a top executive last year.

Before, Uber and Google were supportive of each other’s efforts; Google highlighted Uber as a mode of transportation in its maps application. Since their race to develop self-driving cars has positioned them as competitors, the companies have distanced themselves. Google now promotes its own version of a ride-sharing service in the Bay Area through its mapping app Waze.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in a statement, “I love Amit’s excitement for solving complex computer problems and his passion for helping improve people’s lives through technology. The team at Uber, myself included, will learn a lot from him.”

Uber Pays More Than $20 Million In Settlement with FTC

The Federal Trade Commission brought charges to Uber on behalf of the drivers who claimed to have been misled about how much money they could expect to make and how much it would cost to buy or lease a car through the company. The ride-sharing company agreed to settle these claims for $20 million.

The money from the settlement will be distributed to the drivers affected by Uber’s alleged deceptive claims. The settlement also prohibits Uber from making claims about drivers’ potential income that are false, misleading, on unsubstantiated.

In an email, an Uber spokesman said “We’re pleased to have reached an agreement with the FTC. We’ve made many improvements to the driver experience over the last year and will continue to focus on ensuring that Uber is the best option for anyone looking to earn money on their own schedule.”

Uber drivers have previously staged protests and filed lawsuits to bring attention to the fact that their pay is too low. While Uber previously said that drivers can make up to $30 and hour, most drivers say they do not make anything close to that figure.

There are conflicting studies that reflect the varying wages of drivers. According to a November study by Uber employee and shareholder Jonathan Hall, drivers make an average of $20.19 an hour. A June report by Buzzfeed News, however, shows that drivers make an average of less than $13.25 an hour in urban areas like Detroit, Houston, and Denver.

In the FTC’s complaint, the agency says Uber claimed drivers could earn $90,000 annually in New York and $74,000 annually in San Francisco, yet drivers actually make an average of $61,000 and $53,000, respectively. Uber, the FTC alleged, attempted to attract new drivers to sign up by exaggerating their potential salaries.

The FTC’s complaint continues, “When Uber’s promised earnings have not materialized, and drivers have attempted to cancel their auto agreements, they have incurred significant monetary harm. Uber’s practices have caused its drivers to suffer millions of dollars of injury.” Another part of the agency’s complaint was that Uber’s car financing program turned out to be more expensive for drivers than marketed.

In a statement, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Jessica Rich said “This settlement will put millions of dollars back in Uber drivers’ pockets.”

Uber Allows Access to Traffic Data With New Website, Movement

In a move of unexpected information sharing, Uber is making its traffic data accessible on its new website, Movement. This site sprang from the idea that data gathered by Uber in cities where the business operates could benefit the public. Movement is intended for use by urban planners in hopes of improving mobility in target areas. The traffic analysis, therefore, is packaged in a way that is easy for organizations to interpret—it is centered around zones within cities, establishing a baseline for urban planning and traffic management. The data will be made available to the general public eventually, although early access is currently limited to organizations who apply for it.

Movement offers real-time data on travel times in a given traffic zone within a city, with tools to adjust variables like time, day, and zone. Users can download charts of this data as time series charts and as raw data to be plugged into other models. Uber also plans to provide this data as an API. Privacy advocates may be alarmed by the open-source nature of this endeavor, but Uber addresses these concerns by anonymizing drivers and passengers through the sheer volume of aggregated data. The ride-hailing company says it will not provide results for requests where there is not enough aggregated data to ensure the anonymity of commuters. 

Uber hopes that Movement will allow urban planners to make informed decisions on infrastructure by providing reliable data. The data would show why changes need to be made, where they should take place, and when it should happen. The goal is to make it easier to make the right decision for the city’s organization.  However, the motivation behind this effort can’t be written off as a completely benevolent gesture. As infrastructure improves, so does business—Uber’s specifically. Making transport more efficient in cities where Uber operates also makes the ride-sharing service more efficient, which in turn produces better customer experiences and promises higher usage rates. Movement, therefore, can influence city planners into making changes that improve aspects of Uber’s business that the company itself cannot control.