If self-driving cars really are the future, then Silicon Valley could turn into the next Detroit. It's full of tech companies that aim to use the copious software needs of autonomous vehicles to elbow their way into the car business.
The latest company to join this increasingly-crowded field is DeepMap, a startup that aims to develop better maps for self-driving cars. Rather than building its own self-driving cars, it plans to license its technology to automakers. In a Medium post, the company announced that it just raised $25 million in Series A funding, on top of $7 million from a previous funding round.
DeepMap's co-founders hope to leverage previous experience with digital mapping, mostly outside the automotive realm. CEO James Wu previously helped develop server infrastructure for Google Earth, worked on Apple Maps, and served as "principal architect" of Chinese tech firm Baidu's self-driving car platform, according to DeepMap. CTO Mark Wheeler worked at Apple on panoramic imagery, at Leica Geosystems on LIDAR, and at Google on cloud mapping systems.
High-quality digital maps are crucial to self-driving cars not only because they allow cars to navigate along a route, but because they can be used to help a car orient itself in a given area by comparing landmarks to its own sensor data.
DeepMap believes it can improve on current digital maps by packaging them as a service, rather than just a product. The maps themselves will be created using imagery from cameras and data from LIDAR units, and DeepMap plans to use the sensors on customers' self-driving cars to generate those ingredients. Instead of selling an automaker a set of maps, DeepMap will enable that automaker's cars to constantly create and update new maps, ensuring they are always current.
BMW and Mobileye are already taking a similar approach to generating data for autonomous cars. Earlier this year, the two companies announced plans to pull anonymized data from 2018-model-year BMW vehicles equipped with camera-based driver-assist systems. That data will be sent to the cloud and processed by Here, the mapping company controlled by BMW, Audi, and Daimler. Mobileye also has deals with Nissan and Volkswagen to develop maps for self-driving cars.
DeepMap CEO Wu told Bloomberg that, by the end of the year, he hopes to have three customers and around $10 million in revenue. Given the importance of digital mapping to mass-market self-driving cars, it doesn't seem out of the question for DeepMap to hook up with an automaker, just as Mobileye has.