Google is planning a ride-sharing service that could involve catching a lift from one of its driverless cars, according to Bloomberg. David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, sits on Uber's board of directors and has reportedly informed them that Google is considering stepping into the ride-sharing space.
Uber's board is also reported to have seen screenshots of a ride-sharing app made by Google, which is apparently already in use by its employees. That means that development is likely far along, though there's no suggestion as to when we might see it or if Google plans to release it publicly. The Wall Street Journal, however, says that a Google engineer is testing an internal app designed to help employees share rides, rather than anything that would take on Uber directly.
Drummond may have to leave Uber's board
The Journal believes the app is unrelated to Google's autonomous driving project. The Information reported well over a year ago that Google was considering turning its self-driving cars into self-driving taxis, however, and Bloomberg's report seems to suggest that this plan is still in the works. Given that Google's autonomous cars aren't yet ready for the road, it'll likely be a long time before they're involved, but Google could choose to roll out the ride-sharing service beforehand to start getting people on board. If Google is really making shared driverless cars, it could mean that car owners will be able to set their vehicles to act as taxis while they aren't using them. Alternatively, this could just be how Google refers to an autonomous taxi fleet.
Again, that's largely speculation for now, as there's still little in the way of hard details. It's not clear how much more we'll learn before Google's driverless vehicles are actually ready, though it expects that to be within the next several years.
Naturally, Uber isn't going to be thrilled about this news. Though Google is a big investor in Uber — it's even integrated Uber into Google Maps — Uber's board is now considering asking Drummond to resign, according to Bloomberg. A decision on whether to request his resignation has not yet been made, however.
In the meantime, Uber is planning its next move. In a separate report, TechCrunch says that Uber is opening a research lab in Pittsburgh, where it's scooped up more than 50 scientists from Carnegie Mellon and the National Robotics Engineering Center to start working on autonomous taxis. Not only will Uber be creating the self-driving tech, it'll reportedly even be building the cars. This is Google's approach too, but Uber is seemingly years behind and just starting to build a team. It must also face the fact that established automakers are working to make their vehicles autonomous.
Nonetheless, it may be a venture with some foresight. Uber has also previously said that it'll eventually replace all of its drivers with self-driving cars, which makes a lot of sense because it would make margins higher and Uber doesn't really care about its drivers.
Google's ambitions won't necessarily overlap with Uber's biggest businesses in the short term. Even if Google does launch a ride-sharing app soon, that'll likely be very different than the type of taxi service that Uber is primarily known for. Still, a tight relationship with Google is never a bad thing for a startup — and the two companies now seem to be pushing one another away.
Update February 2nd, 8:54PM ET: In response to a request for comment, Google directed us to a new tweet. The tweet suggests that Google may not be ready to step into ride sharing just yet — or at the very least, it isn't interested in starting any fights.
Separately, Uber confirmed that it was beginning a self-driving car project.
Update February 2nd, 11PM ET: Added details from The Wall Street Journal's report.