Calif. — Somewhere lies a mythical city where the cars
drive themselves, and the people walk around with
wearable guides that know what they want and where to
find it. To make this city work requires the most
detailed map ever created.
wants that map. So do Apple and Uber. And a consortium
of German luxury carmakers just bought their way into
Silicon Valley’s simmering map-making race, announcing
earlier this month they will spend $3.1 billion to
acquire Nokia’s mapping division, dubbed HERE.
know this is going to be the brains of our cars,"
said Eric Gundersen, CEO of San Francisco startup Mapbox,
one of many Bay Area firms riding a wave of market
interest in next-generation cartography. "Mapping
is core to everything mobile and everything about being
able to move around a city."
company can draw the best digital atlas, update it at
lightning speeds and control who can use it has an edge
on future industries from robot taxi and package
delivery fleets to personalized shopping apps.
was elation but little surprise in downtown Berkeley,
hub for the image-collection division of Nokia’s
mapping technology, when engineers huddled together for
an all-staff meeting about the German deal.
months of rumors about who would buy them — San
Francisco’s Uber and Chinese tech giant Baidu were
among the likely contenders — the announcement
confirmed that BMW, Audi and Daimler, owner of the
Mercedes-Benz brand, were the winning suitors.
taking over Nokia’s 6,000-person maps team, the German
trio showed that they won’t let Google, the incumbent
leader in digital maps, or Apple, which is trying to
catch up, control the destiny of location-based
innovation is no longer just about designing the best
turn-by-turn navigation software or the most beautiful
consumer interface. Some maps will become so integrated
into smartphone apps that they will know when and where
a user might want to shop or eat, Gundersen said.
who are tracing the world’s urban contours with
greater detail than ever before are also creating the
foundation for vehicle-to-vehicle communications that
warn of hazards and traffic congestion, and "smart
cities" where every bus line and taxicab is
connected to an efficient, pulsating municipal control
trend is being able to optimize every mile," said
Shiva Shivakumar, a former Google executive who
co-founded Urban Engines, which contracts with cities
such as Singapore and Sao Paulo to track buses and other
public transit vehicles.
map system already powers about 80 percent of cars with
embedded navigation in North America and Europe.
digital maps are a crucial component of the mobility of
the future," said Dieter Zetsche, chairman of
Daimler AG, in a statement about the Nokia deal.
"With the joint acquisition of HERE, we want to
secure the independence of this central service for all
vehicle manufacturers, suppliers and customers in other
Google, Nokia has been managing a global fleet of
vehicles capturing highly detailed street-level images
from Bangkok to Brazil.
each mapping car is a 5-foot rig with accelerometers and
gyroscopes that record hills and turns; a panoramic
camera that captures images; a global positioning system
tracking satellite-based coordinates; and a
fast-rotating laser scanner that can pinpoint the edges
of lanes, curbs and tree branches.
a recent visit to his Berkeley office, John Ristevski,
the Finnish firm’s head of reality capture and
processing, showed how the vehicles mapped San Francisco’s
famous Lombard Street to capture its curvy topography in
precision mapping is a building block for driver
assistance products and especially for fully autonomous
vehicles, which will use the internal mapping software
to know where to drive.
to fend off Google before it controls the market, the
German auto companies are making a long-term investment
in autonomous driving, said Marc Prioleau, whose
consulting firm specializes in location services.
have to invest a lot of money in very expensive sensors
and cars and tools to build the maps, and right now
there’s no market for it. It’s a 2020 market,"
Prioleau said. "It’s a market that takes a lot of
investment today for something out in the future. I
think that’s something they want to make sure they
companies are also in the race. Dutch mapping firm
TomTom, known for its in-car navigation devices, has
partnered with Germany’s Bosch to map freeways for
self-driving cars — its first project was Silicon
Valley’s Interstate 280.
this summer began deploying street-mapping minivans
across U.S. cities, but has a lot of catching up to do.
So does Uber, which bought mapping pioneer deCarta in
March in what could be a long-term goal to wean its
dependence on Google Maps and one day create its own
efficient self-driving taxi service.
the telecommunication company is based in Finland, Nokia’s
mapping division has its roots in a Silicon Valley firm,
Karlin & Collins, that was founded 30 years ago
after one of its co-founders struggled to read an
unwieldy paper map while driving around the Bay Area.
The company helped launch the turn-by-turn computer
navigation craze that took off in the 1990s. It moved to
Chicago and changed its name to Navteq, which Nokia
bought for $8.1 billion in 2007. The Finnish firm added
Ristevski’s Earthmine, a Berkeley-based firm, in 2012.
companies and auto makers are vying for control of
high-tech mapping technology:
After mapping 27 million miles around the world, the
Finnish firm is selling off HERE, its maps division, for
$3.1 billion to German carmakers BMW, Daimler and Audi.
Its popular Maps product celebrated its 10th anniversary
this year, but Google is now perfecting and collecting
more detailed, internal maps for its self-driving cars.
The Dutch company, known for its in-car navigation
devices, has partnered with Germany’s Bosch to map
freeways for self-driving cars — its first project was
Silicon Valley’s Interstate 280.
Good maps are key to the San Francisco firm’s mission
to build an efficient ride-hailing service. Moving to
lessen its dependence on Google Maps, Uber bought
deCarta in March and is pursuing self-driving car
The consumer giant began deploying image-collecting
mapping minivans throughout U.S. cities this summer.
As tech and auto companies fight to control commercial
mapping technology, this collaborative, open-source
project remains free to all. Some call it the "Wikipedia