Mapping the future of the self-driving car

  • AFP
  • Updated: Jul 24, 2015 11:57 IST
Maps for autonomous driving require multiple layers of information and decimetre accuracy. Photo:AFP

As Daimler, Audi and BMW move to acquire Nokia's Here mapping division, TomTom and Bosch have revealed that they're now working together to develop ultra-accurate maps and the specifications that will enable autonomous cars to read them.

Digital maps, the type we access every time we fire up a car's satnav or reach for the smartphone, have been revolutionary in preventing people getting lost and helping drivers navigate unfamiliar surroundings.

And while they'll form the foundation of the guidance systems that will one day see the car take care of the journey while its occupants put their feet up, they need to become much more accurate, first.

"Only with high precision maps will automated driving on freeways be possible from 2020," said Bosch board of management member Dr. Dirk Hoheisel.

How accurate? According to TomTom, they need to have decimeter precision and consist of several layers of information. The first layer is simply the route -- where the car's going and how it gets there. The second offers the accuracy needed for a car to determine if it is actually within a lane on a road.

A third layer provides speed limits, information on the types of lane markings, slopes, curves and bends. And, only with all of these layers working in sync with a car's sensors can it know exactly where it is and is able to calculate the next move -- such as to stay in lane or to exit -- to perfection. And it's those layers that sit on top of the navigation information that the companies are working to define and develop together.

"By the end of 2015, we want to have new high-precision maps for automated driving for all freeways and freeway-like roads in Germany," said Jan Maarten de Vries, Vice President Automotive at TomTom. Thereafter the companies will concentrate on developing similar maps for the rest of Europe and North America.

The vital importance of real-time mapping information and the facilities to constantly re-chart areas that are under development or regeneration is why Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW are currently in negotiation with Nokia over the purchase of Here, and is why Google has been able to clock up over 1 million autonomous miles in the US.

TomTom's mapping fleet is always on the road collecting data and reshaping existing maps and Nokia's capabilities are greater than Google's when it comes to keeping track of road-going geographical changes.

Bosch meanwhile is already using TomTom maps in autonomous driving tests in highway situations in Germany and in the US.

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