Bengaluru: Uber Technologies Inc. is striving to make its Bengaluru technology centre a hub of product innovation.
The centre, launched in March, will have a team of 50-odd engineers to introduce new products around payments, vehicle intelligence and mapping, among others for India as well as global markets, a senior Uber executive said.
Apart from the Bengaluru centre which is its first in Asia, Uber currently has engineering outposts in San Francisco, Amsterdam, Sofia in Bulgaria, Aarhus in Denmark and Vilnius in Lithuania.
The team in Bengaluru is working on initiatives around payments, both cash and third-party wallets, said Apurva Dalal, head of engineering for Uber India.
Incidentally, India was the first country where Uber introduced cash payments—a far cry from its seamless credit card payments worldwide—before it rolled out the option in Colombo, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia.
In India, the engineering team is working on ways to dispense with small change while paying in cash. The idea is to credit the balance to the consumer’s Uber account, which not only makes for a seamless experience but also ensures the consumer returns to Uber to utilize the change.
“One thing is finding more partners (for wallets). Any company with a significant mass of people using their wallets becomes interesting for us,” said Dalal, who joined Uber from furniture retailer Urban Ladder in July.
“We are also working on small change. You pay something to the driver but there is no change. Can we pass that on back as credits? This is something which has got a global application and also builds loyalty in some way. We are also revisiting the Paytm experience,” Dalal said.
Dalal did not comment on the specific tie-ups Uber is pursuing.
The India team is also working on ways to assess the health of a vehicle—condition of the engine and fuel efficiency—apart from a driver’s handling of the vehicle or location among others, even when the phone is switched off.
“We want to know enough about the Uber vehicle. So we have sensors. We started with saying that at any given time, where is the car located? Our app has enough signals that come back to us. But what if the phone is turned off? Can we still track the vehicle? There is a lot of interesting work happening from here in terms of vehicle intelligence,” Dalal said.
Vehicle intelligence and maps play a pivotal role in Uber’s self-driving cars project, said Dalal. In September this year, Uber rolled out self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. A month earlier, in August, Uber acquired self-driving truck company Otto for $680 million.
Among other initiatives, the team in India is working on three-dimensional maps, a key component in Uber’s quest to launch self-driving cars, apart from perfecting maps to improve last mile connectivity, for instance, route from the entrance of a housing society to a particular building.
“Expected time of arrival for cabs and the pickup experience entirely depends on the underlying infrastructure of maps. Map systems that have been built so far are fairly good, but they always do not suit Uber’s use case. We need to perhaps get more knowledge around traffic than what we get today from the current mapping systems,” Dalal said.
Uber is competing with homegrown rival Ola (ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd) to capture a lion’s share of the ride hailing market in India, especially after it sold off the China business to local rival Didi Kuaidi.
Uber India president Amit Jain said in an interview in September that Uber’s completed trips rose from 165,000 a week in January 2015 to 1.6 million in January 2016 and 5.5 million at the end of August.