Uber begins mapping Asia’s roads, starting off in Singapore

Uber is beginning to map roads in Asia for the first time as it aims to improve its service in the region.

The company said today that it has deployed mapping cars in Singapore, the first such country in Asia, in a bid to gather information that can improve its service for both drivers and passengers. It isn’t immediately clear when the initiative will be expanded and which countries in Asia might be next, but Uber did explain more on why it maps locally in a blog post:

Existing maps are a good starting point, but some information isn’t that relevant to Uber, like ocean topography. There are other things we need to know a lot more about, like traffic patterns and precise pick-up and drop-off locations. We need to be able to provide a seamless experience in parts of the world where there aren’t detailed maps — or street signs.

Uber mapping cars have been used in the U.S., UK, Australia, Mexico, Canada and South Africa. Uber hired two executives from Google’s Maps team — Brian McClendon and Manik Gupta — to handle its mapping efforts, while it also acquired a maps-focused startup back in 2015.

The company is increasing its focus on India and Southeast Asia after agreeing to sell its loss-making China business, which was costing it an estimated $1 billion per year, to rival Didi Chuxing. Now, Uber is increasing its efforts to rival Ola in India, where it recently introduced hire cars, and battling Grab, which last year raised $750 million led by SoftBank, in Southeast Asia.

As we reported last year, Uber is already profitable in parts of Southeast Asia, and it is working to introduce other services in the region, including UberEats — which came to Singapore last year and recently went live in Bangkok, Thailand.

It isn’t all singing and dancing for the U.S. firm in Asia however. It exited China via the Didi deal, this month it suspended its service in Taiwan following government pressure, and it is facing tough challenges in South Korea and Japan.