All ride-hail Uber. Yes, you can follow them on Instagram for more unintentionally brilliant stuff like this. But while we argue about what kind of company to call them, Uber Technologies is keeping pretty busy. The Wall Street Journal reports that they've heard from anonymous sources about the business seeking a $1 billion credit line from banks, which could signal an IPO on the horizon. Meanwhile, the Business Times snapped a shot of the company's self-driving car prototype, mocking the funny looking contraption. And how did Uber get it out of the garage so fast? As the Verge reports, word is they gutted Carnegie Mellon's top robotics lab to get them on the road. So much for a "strategic partnership."
Oh, and perhaps they'd better roll those autonomous Ubers out soon, since a new survey of drivers published in the Chronicle and elsewhere reveals that many contractors are uninsured and lots are dissatisfied.
While CEO Travis Kalanick and company anticipate a new, historically high valuation of $50 billion dollars, they're out raising another $2 billion. And sure, private funding is good, but by negotiating this credit line, Uber may be telling us that they're hoping to be publicly traded, and soon, since cementing a relationship with banks represents a crucial first step. But how much are they making, anyway? Last year, Uber had an estimated revenue of roughly $400 million. That's after paying their drivers, which they're experimenting with doing a little less. But they wouldn't have to do that at all if the cars just drove themselves, right?
In a tight-lipped email about sightings of their autonomous car in Pittsburgh, sporting an "Uber Advanced Technologies Center" logo, a spokesperson responded that "this vehicle is part of our early research efforts regarding mapping, safety and autonomy systems." Yes, as Kalanick has said, "The reason Uber could be expensive is because you're not just paying for the car — you're paying for the other dude in the car. When there's no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle." Indeed, Barclay's Johnson thinks the sale of automobiles could drop 40 percent in the next 25 years for just that reason, while the market for autonomous technology is expected to grow to $42 billion by 2025.
To make that a reality, it sounds like Uber had to Uber all over Carnegie Mellon's prestigious National Robotics Engineering Center. Hey, they're racing against Google, who is moving pretty fast: the search company wants to be a car company with vehicles our streets this year. It was supposed to be a partnership with the University, but it sounds a lot more like poaching in Pittsburgh, with Uber setting up shop in a renovated factory building down the road from CMU. "They took all the guys that were working on vehicle autonomy — basically whole groups, whole teams of developers, commercialization specialists, all the guys that find grants and who were bringing the intellectual property," says one unnamed source. "These guys, they took everybody." In total, 50 have defected to Uber. First they came for the software developers, but by the end, they'd scored the center's director.
With Uber ascending, here in the company's hometown a new survey of 1,330 on-demand workers is pretty telling. With 20,000 driver-partners, the results indicated that 8 percent or about 1,600 of them don't have personal car insurance policies. Though drivers are drawn to the flexibility of the job, 43 percent of those who left said their top reason for doing so was the pay, which is roughly $18 an hour per the survey. Though some are still fighting for employee status, that may be a race against the clock — or against that thing in Pittsburgh.