Audi, BMW, Daimler Create Maps For Self-Driving Cars

To get to an autonomous future, cars need up-to-the-second road information.

Youtube.com/heremaps

Ever have your phone (or in-car) GPS steer you wrong? Of course you have. That’s because roads close for repairs, and whole new ones are built before the nav system has been updated. And yet into this reality carmakers want to insert self-driving cars. What’s wrong with this picture is… everything.

To address the distance between the present state of GPS mapping and autonomy, BMW, Mercedes, and Audi have co-invested in the purchase of Nokia’s mapping system, called Here. It’s already in 80 percent of the cars that use navi-tech, both in Europe and North America. But the purchase is meant to help all of these carmakers steer what navigation does in conjunction with autonomy. In a joint statement, the three German auto titans say that, “Maps will give vehicles the ability to effectively ‘see around corners,’ enabling them to anticipate road hazards and prepare and adjust driving strategies accordingly….”

O.K. But in plain English, this purchase is about two huge factors: Ego and autonomy.

In the hands of Nokia, Here was selling its data to the likes of Google, Samsung, Yahoo, Microsoft’s Bing, Amazon and Garmin. Automakers feared Google might buy Here, and that it would mean zero control over highly granular mapping. Don’t underestimate appearances—automakers don’t want to look like they’ve failed to see the future. (Oh, hello, Tesla).

Egos aside, there’s a still very pragmatic reason for owning Here: You can’t get to self-driving cars without incredibly powerful mapping. And that’s just what Here was working on already—mapping that computers, not humans, will find useful. In a blog post about the acquisition, Here explained that autonomy happens only when mapping becomes “live,” and accurate up to the nanosecond:

Sensor sight is limited, because of curves in the road or bigger vehicles ahead. A much smoother drive is possible if the vehicle is connected and can see around corners to control maneuvers beyond sensor visibility.

We call this ‘live road’ and that’s where our cloud services come into play. We are already working on this solution with Continental to bring autonomous cars to reality more quickly. When cars are connected with each other and to the cloud, it’s much easier for them to know what lies ahead, whether it’s wet roads, obstacles or incidents, making it easier for sensors to promptly react.

Earlier this summer, when Daimler, Audi, and BMW announced the $2.71b deal, the Wall Street Journal reported that the three automakers planned to make the tech open-source to other global automakers. Essentially, to create a platform all carmakers could use to get to a single mapping system they could share.

Yeah, but will they really share? Even with Elon Musk?