Uber heads in new mapping direction with deCarta acquisition

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SAN FRANCISCO — Uber Technologies is buying digital mapping specialist deCarta in a deal that may help the rapidly growing ride-hailing service lessen its dependence on navigation services from Google and Apple, an imposing pair of potential rivals.

Although deCarta isn’t as well-known as Google Maps, its technology is extensively used by consumers. The OnStar system built into cars made by General Motors Co. relies on deCarta, as do smartphone makers Samsung Electronics and BlackBerry Inc. In its early years, Google Maps even tapped into deCarta’s technology, according to deCarta. The acquisition confirmed Wednesday will provide Uber’s drivers with another way to find passengers summoning rides on the company’s mobile app and deliver them to their destinations more quickly. DeCarta’s technology also may help Uber provide more accurate estimates about the arrival times of its cars, which can now be ordered in more than 250 cities in 50 countries.

The deCarta deal comes a month after an unconfirmed report that Google Inc. is planning a rival ride-hailing service that would draw upon the driverless cars that the company has been building and testing for the past few years. Uber fueled further speculation about a looming battle with Google by forging a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University to work on its own driverless cars.

Another report published in The Wall Street Journal outlined Apple’s plans to reshape the automobile industry with an electric vehicle, a development that conceivably could set up the iPhone maker to compete against Uber someday.

For now, Uber says it plans to blend deCarta’s technology with the Google and Apple maps that it already uses. “With the acquisition of deCarta, we will continue to fine-tune our products and services that rely on maps…and make the Uber experience even better for our users,” the San Francisco company said in a printed statement.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Privately held Uber has plenty of financial firepower, having raised nearly $3 billon. Investors involved in that financing have valued the 6-year-old company at about $40 billion. All told, Uber has raised nearly $6 billion since its inception, including a $258 million infusion from Google’s venture capital arm in 2013.

Uber has funneled most of its cash into expanding its workforce to more than 2,000 people worldwide and building its ride-hailing network. The company had only done a handful of small acquisitions before making its biggest splash so far with the purchase of deCarta, a San Jose, California company that started nearly 20 years ago.

BY MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Technology Writer

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