DUBLIN -- IoT World 2016 -- Ride-hailing app developer Uber is exploring opportunities to use the vehicle data it generates in vertical markets outside the automotive sector.
The company says that data it collects about journey times and passengers could be of value to other organizations looking to make efficiency and productivity improvements.
"If you are a GP [general practitioner] or hairdresser with a booking system, you could integrate Uber's data to understand whether customers will be early or late, for example," said Kieran Harte, the general manager of Uber in Ireland, during today's IoT World 2016 conference in Dublin. "Using transportation data to help other industries move forward could be a huge opportunity for us."
Uber has fast grown into one of the world's best-known smartphone apps since it was founded in 2009 and is today active in more than 70 countries and 400 cities around the world.
A valuation of more than $60 billion has been attached to the privately owned company this year, which would make it even more valuable than carmakers Ford and GM.
While that has prompted suggestions that Uber is currently overvalued, the company has already shown that its ambitions go far beyond offering a smartphone-friendly transportation alternative to traditional taxi services.
Among other things, Uber is one of several organizations at the forefront of research into self-driving vehicles, and it has been carrying out trials in Pittsburgh.
Harte reckons such innovations combined with the data that Uber collects could be used to reduce congestion in urban environments and even cut down on levels of car ownership.
"The outcomes are far reaching -- we can start taking cars off the road, ease congestion and reduce emissions," he says. "Cars are parked for 96% of the time and taking the space back would allow us to improve bus lanes and even provide more affordable housing."
Harte says Uber is increasingly reaching out to the IoT community for solutions that would help it improve its service offering -- even in trivial ways. "IoT is giving us the power to pull this off," he says. "Knowing whether a car is left in a clean-enough situation for the next ride -- we need help solving things like that."
Ultimately, however, Uber's data-gathering and analytics prowess could take it into entirely new fields, according to Harte.
"We are preparing for getting to a place where the data is secure enough and we can share it, and this will have an impact on other industries," he says.
Despite Harte's bullishness, Uber has faced a number of challenges to its business model globally, including fierce opposition from the established taxi firms whose business it is disrupting.
In Ireland, existing legislation has stopped Uber from rolling out the kind of service that consumers take for granted elsewhere: Uber can only use licensed taxi drivers, for example.
Harte, however, is optimistic that legislative tweaks will allow Uber to introduce a standard service offering in the future. "All that is required is nitpicking of regulations that were unfortunately introduced in Ireland," he says. "Do we think we'll get there? Absolutely."
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading