Uber Acquires Part Of Bing’s Mapping Assets, Will Absorb Around 100 Microsoft Employees

Uber will acquire assets from Microsoft Bing, including roughly 100 employees focused on the product’s image collection activities. In short, Uber is absorbing data-collection engineers from Microsoft to bolster its own mapping work.

The companies confirmed the transaction with TechCrunch, but each declined to name the terms of the agreement. Microsoft handing Uber part of its operating expenses is minor, given the financial scale of the firms. The technology transfer is far more interesting.

Uber’s app is essentially a map with add-ons, so that it would want to pick up engineers — currently the hottest Silicon Valley commodity1 — isn’t surprising. And that Microsoft might want to shed some talent that isn’t precisely core to its larger platforms and productivity efforts doesn’t shock.

Still, Microsoft has been noisy for years about how Bing isn’t an asset that it will sell, so to see the firm let go of a small piece is notable. (Update: To answer some questions, Microsoft has been pointed on the issue of Bing search remaining as part of its family, and not Bing as the diverse asset that it is, doing the same. The gist is that this sale, so far as I can grok as just one nerd, is that there isn’t a change in strategy taking place.)

The move also underscores Uber’s ambition. A firm doesn’t hire 100 specific-focus engineers in a single move if it doesn’t have large product aspirations. The new Uber kids are the folks who worked to get image data into Bing, meaning that the search engine’s 3D, aerial and street footage is in large part their doing. You can therefore start to presume what Uber has in mind.

The companies informed TechCrunch in the wake of the deal that ‘assets’ will transfer, as well as the workers. The firms both declined to elaborate on what those assets are. We can guess, however. If your work involves image collection, and you are hired away, that some of your work would follow isn’t beyond the pale.

My guess, therefore, is that Microsoft is selling a chunk of its image collection to Uber, and that it will retain licensing rights thereof. Also I presume that Redmond is selling off part of its bucket of intellectual property to Uber in the deal — if you know more about the terms, shoot me a direct message.

The official comments from the firms are of the massaged variety, with Uber saying that it’s “excited about the talent and technology this acquisition brings.” Microsoft is similarly banal, saying that it has “taken many actions to focus the company’s efforts around our core business strategy” in the last year.

Uber wants to be clear that it wants to be a full-stack operation, while Microsoft wants you to consider its product focus as a weapon. We’ll see. For now, Uber has new tools, and Microsoft’s Bing product is slightly lighter in the financial sense.

1 Soon, it will be capital. And not of the human variety.