GrabTaxi, the largest ride-hail service in Southeast Asia, is opening an engineering center in Seattle in a bid to improve its mobile platform by taking advantage of the deep pool of tech talent in that city, the company announced Wednesday.
The new center will be run by Raman Narayanan, a former Microsoft "Distinguished Engineer." But GrabTaxi, which currently operates in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand, insists it has no plans to launch its service in the US, where the market is already controlled by Uber and Lyft.
"We see plenty of opportunity in Southeast Asia."
"We see plenty of opportunity in Southeast Asia and are focused on services in our local markets where we have familiarity with local needs," said Arul Kumaravel, VP of engineering and formerly Head of engineering for Amazon's mobile platform, in an email to The Verge.
Kumaravel explained why the company's decision to open a tech hub in Seattle was significant: "The types of technical challenges that we are addressing now compared to our earlier days are very different. We've moved on from solving individual inefficiencies and are now working on more complex aspects of the technology like predictive analytics to forecast demand and supply in specific areas."
Despite self-driving technology that's all the rage among its competitors, GrabTaxi's engineering team won't be tackling similar research, Narayanan explained. "In Southeast Asia where GrabTaxi operates, many cities are still developing infrastructure such as detailed mapping data, which is necessary for self-driving vehicles to operate effectively," he said. "So I would say that SDVs are currently more relevant to the developed markets."
Still the announcement from GrabTaxi, which is involved in a global partnership with two other Asian ride-hail companies, China's Didi Kuaidi and India's Ola, as well as Lyft, is a sign of the growing power of the Eastern Hemisphere's ride-hail industry. It's especially noteworthy, given the fact that Uber has targeted India and China for its next expansion project.
Unrelated, Didi Kuaidi, which just announced it had completed 1.43 billion trips in 2015, said today that it was launching an API project very similar to Uber's, in which third-party developers could add a deep link to Didi's ride-hail service within their own apps. All of which signifies the challenges Uber faces in its quest to dominate Asia's transportation network.