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Silicon Valley start-up DeepMap wants to teach autonomous cars how to drive

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【Summary】DeepMap, a startup founded by Google veterans, plans to build maps and software to teach autonomous cars how to drive. The company plans to license its map-building software to companies pursuing autonomous vehicle technology.

Original Eric Walz    May 05, 2017 11:20 AM PT
Silicon Valley start-up DeepMap wants to teach autonomous cars how to drive

By Eric Walz

DeepMap, a startup founded by Google veterans, plans to build maps and software to teach autonomous cars how to drive. The company plans to license its map-building software to companies pursuing autonomous vehicle technology.

The company is based in Palo Alto, California has backing from top venture capitalists, and recently raised $25 million, in a funding round led by Accel.  DeepMap already raised $7 million in 2016, according to Bloomberg, bringing its total investments to $32 million to date. Andreessen Horowitz and China based GSR Ventures also invested in DeepMap.

The company's co-founders are James Wu and Mark Wheeler. Before they founded DeepMap, Wu led the engineering efforts building the serving infrastructure of Google Earth, helped with the launch of Apple Maps, and served as principal architect for Baidu's self-driving platform. Mr. Wheeler conducted GPS localization research at Carnegie Mellon University, worked at Apple on panoramic imagery, and built enterprise cloud mapping solutions at Google.

DeepMap fuses images from digital cameras with data collected using a laser device known as LiDAR to build detailed 3D maps. Autonomous cars use LiDAR to "see" the surroundings.

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Using LiDAR and camera technology, DeepMap can identify street signs, mailboxes, even small details such as the height of a curb. The 3-D maps complement the sensors by giving the cars a detailed awareness of the environment outside the car's view. DeepMap intends to provide a high-definition mapping and localization service designed to support millions of cars.

The startup put together an 80-page white paper on its technology in order to secure the investments.

"Having the map lets us define for the robot the rules of the world," Wu told Bloomberg. "It's very easy to make a prototype car that can make a few decisions around a few blocks, but it's harder when you get out into the world."

The company is entering a competitive field. Major Silicon Valley tech firms, Alphabet, Apple and Uber, are already working on their own mapping technologies. HERE, a joint-owned project in partnership with automotive firms including Toyota and Intel, is also building maps.

James Wu said to Bloomberg that DeepMap hopes to have three customers by the end of the year, while generating as much as $10 million in revenue.

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