Developing its own maps enables Uber to offer more precise estimates for pickups and drop-offs to users and better routes for drivers—improvements which are particularly important for carpooling and for autonomous vehicles.
These are capabilities that rivals in emerging markets would be very hard put to match.
In addition to competitors, Uber also needs to contend with regulators and policymakers.
Most of Uber’s bookings are generated in just 20 cities.
Many dense, potentially lucrative urban areas in countries including Germany, Italy and Spain are out of reach for the time being because of regulatory problems.
It is unclear how soon and how favourably these will be resolved, if at all.
How Uber fares with regulators will depend to some extent on how it manages its relationship with the public.
If it succeeds in its vision of becoming a major provider of transport services for both passengers and goods all over the planet, it will have a larger presence in the physical world than any technology company in history.
The public will have an opinion about it.
Today competition authorities see Uber in a positive light, because it brings more transport options to city-dwellers.
But when it puts many taxi companies out of business and becomes an essential part of a city's infrastructure, there will be calls to regulate it more strongly.
Those calls will get louder if, or when, Uber starts to swap growth for profits.
Uber's relationship with its drivers could hit its image and its pockets.
Drivers in California, Massachusetts and New York have sued the company, claiming that they are employees, not freelancers, and are thus entitled to benefits.
A judge in California recently allowed one of these cases to proceed, bringing fresh uncertainty over Uber's financial obligations.
Some drivers say that once they cover their expenses, they make less than the minimum wage.
“I feel betrayed by Uber,” says Omer Abdelnur, who has driven for Uber for three years in San Francisco; he has watched his earnings decline by around 70%, according to his estimates.
(Uber says fares have dropped, but wages have stayed level because the volume of trips is up. )
According to one insider, the public-relations nightmare of drivers' low wages and lack of benefits (compared with techies' high salaries) has helped to keep Apple and Google out of ride-hailing so far.
据知情人士透露，司机 (相较于高薪技术人员而言) 工资较低缺少福利，这种公关噩梦使得苹果公司和谷歌一直以来都不提供叫车服务。
But this does not necessarily apply to all business models: later this year Waze, a mapping app owned by Alphabet, will reportedly launch a service designed to let San Francisco commuters share rides.
但有些商业模式并不受这种公关噩梦的影响：据报道，今年下半年Alphabet旗下的地图应用软件位智 (Waze) 将启用新的服务模式，让旧金山的通勤者可以使用拼车服务。
And it certainly won’t apply when the cars become driverless.
Mr Kalanick acknowledges that autonomy poses an “existential” risk to Uber.
If other companies produce safe software solutions earlier, they could launch ride-hailing or ride-sharing services that undercut and possibly destroy his company.
In an autonomous world, the competition may expand to include carmakers like GM, Ford and Tesla as well as tech companies like Google and Apple—which have mountains of cash to spend on fleets, if they want to.
If the fleet model proves the way to go, Uber would have to give up its asset-light approach and join in.
There are reasons to be optimistic about Uber's prospects in navigating this technological change.
Because transport is its whole business, it will work harder to ensure it is in the lead.
Alphabet, Google's parent company, has more wonky projects than there are letters.
Just as the shift to mobile concentrated Facebook's attention and required a great deal of discipline, the shift to autonomy has created an urgency and focus at Uber.
At the same time, it should be able to incorporate autonomy piecemeal as it is phased in at different paces, and with different rules, in different jurisdictions.
Such a transition will be hard for an all-autonomous approach.
That said, Uber has a reputation for pushing into new markets before regulations are in place and working out rules later; there are “lots of places where there aren't regulations at all, so you can just roll out”, says Mr Kalanick.
That may not be such a good approach when it comes to autonomy.
Governments that have not thought through laws to govern autonomous vehicles as quickly as they might are unlikely to take kindly to self-driving cars barrelling down roads in the interregnum.
The shift to autonomous vehicles may improve riders' lives, but it could also spark a backlash against new technologies that put chauffeurs and truck drivers out of work.
“We have a lot of attention as it is. I don't even know how we could get more,” says Mr Kalanick.
But if there is a lesson to be taken from Mr Carnegie's experience of empire-building in Pittsburgh, it is that the public rarely looks kindly on those who amass big fortunes if they do not contribute some of their winnings in return.
Offering cheap rides is not going to be enough to count on the public's good graces.