Autonomous Cars are Giving Mapmakers a Chance to Compete with Larger Companies

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【Summary】Google may be the king of automotive-related maps, but smaller mapmakers are giving larger companies some competition, as an all-out war over maps is imminent.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Mar 03, 2018 8:00 PM PT
Autonomous Cars are Giving Mapmakers a Chance to Compete with Larger Companies

There are a lot of things that need to come together to give vehicles the ability to drive without any inputs from a driver. The main aspects of an autonomous vehicle include the hardware – the sensors and cameras – and the software – all of the items that one can't see by just looking at the vehicle. A highly-detailed map is a crucial part of a self-driving vehicle, as knowing what lies ahead is incredibly important for the machine. 

When it comes to consumer use, Google has a clear foothold on everything maps. Thanks to its street-mapping vehicles and software expertise, no one was able to challenge Google when it came to finding a way around a traffic jam. The rise of autonomous vehicles has given companies another chance at dethroning Google and it's an opportunity no one's taking lightly. 

Companies Are Taking Two Approaches To Develop Maps

As the Los Angeles Times reports, there are two approaches that companies are taking to develop maps for autonomous vehicles. The first of which prioritizes giving self-driving cars the ability to navigate on their own via high-definition maps, while the other is to create maps one piece at a time, utilizing sensors to gradually add more automated sections to the maps. 

Unsurprisingly, Alphabet is working on both approaches. According to the outlet, Google has a team that's working on 3-D mapping, while Waymo is working on different high-definition maps. Google's project, as the outlet states, is focused on driver-assistance systems that would allow cars to drive on their own. 

Google and Waymo, though, aren't the only companies working on maps like these. General Motors, Uber, and Ford all have their own teams working on highly-detailed maps that will be used in self-driving vehicles. Smaller companies have also entered the mix with special software and gadgets to help them contend with others that have larger budgets and more manpower. 

Making Maps Is An Issue, As Is Updating Them

While developing maps is a difficult task, finding ways to update them is also a tricky venture. Maps for autonomous vehicles require constant updates, as construction and slight variations could result in the vehicle taking a safe route or a dangerous one. 

Different companies have taken different approaches to solving the issue. Mobileye, for instance, believes in a "low-bandwidth" effort that would allow its front-facing camera and chip sensor to see the road ahead. The company claims that the system is more efficient and cost effective than building a comprehensive HD map. 

Some of Google's other competitors, including Here and TomTom, are taking a similar approach. The Los Angeles Times claims that the aforementioned companies are Google's strongest competitors as they are en route to develop "dynamic" maps that portray lanes, curbs, and other pertinent information. Here already has its new mapping system on the road in Audis that allows the vehicles to handle some aspects of semi-autonomous driving. 

Companies may be working on maps for self-driving cars, but no one, as the outlet claims, knows which strategy is the best. Every self-driving map looks different, as the map depends on the sensors and cameras that are fitted onto the vehicle. This aspect makes it easier for smaller companies to compete with larger ones. 

That, though, won't last forever. "It's very similar to navigational maps or even the search engine," said DeepMap's Luo, a former Google employee. "Whoever has bigger scale will have the advantage." 

via: Los Angeles Times

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