The Uber app for iOS and, presumably, Android is today getting a couple of new features centered around estimated times of arrival. The app now lets you share your ETA with contacts from the app, letting them know exactly when you’ll arrive.
The app also lets you text a live map of your trip to your contacts, letting them check in on you to see where you are in relation to your destination. Another new option lets you plug in your destination to get an estimate of how long it will take Uber to get you where you need to go.
The convenience factors here are nice, for sure, but there are some interesting things to consider about the data being gathered and how it might be used.
One intriguing possibility here is that if Uber has no doubt been gathering data on ETAs and such from one location to another in a city. Obviously, the company knows exactly when a trip begins and ends. Doing so may be able to help it generate a strong map of inner-city traffic, data that would parallel that which is collected by Waze, the mapping company recently purchased for a bundle by Google. This update is the first time that Uber is making an effort to expose that data to users directly by telling them how long it will take them to get to a location and sharing that data out to others.
That data could also be used to create overall maps of how city traffic and cab traffic ebb and flow. If you factor in thousands of rides a month over a year, that’s a lot of data with a very unique collection vector. The flow of traffic from point-to-point in urban centers follows a completely different pattern than those of cars coming from outside the city or even those going from one location to another. This isn’t “garage to parking spot” traffic, in other words; this is “place to place.”
In fact, Uber already does do some other things with this data, including mapping a detailed network of routes and neighborhoods in cities including San Francisco. Perhaps that’s why they have a professor of Neuroscience on staff.
Anyhow, the app updates are rolling out today, but the data part of it is more interesting. We’ll have to stay tuned to see how Uber or its partners use the information down the road. And, of course, every ETA map shared acts as a nice little person-to-person advertisement for Uber.