Nokia's contribution to the self-driving future:
Before you think this has anything to do with mobile phones, think again. Nokia does/did? more than just that. In fact, we are not going to use the name Nokia again. The interesting part of our analyses lies in previously owned daughter company ‘Here’.
There is and probably never be such thing as the Nokia self-driving car. But Here is involved in an important branch of the sector. Here supplies digital maps to most of the world’s top automakers. Its main competitor is Google Maps. High-precision digital maps are a crucial component of the mobility of the future, definitely when that future wants to be self-driving. As a resent it was bought up by a syndicate of German auto giants between Audi, BMW and Mercedes Benz. Still Here continues working in order to put autonomous driving on the map.
Digital maps tell us where the roads are (and where not!) and what’s on them. Something alongside car sensors, sometimes intervening when sensors fail or cannot operate properly (think of bad weather or corners). We want to know what lies beyond the horizon because at 80 mph seconds go by before a car gets there. And they have to be precise, until maximum 7 inches, before it gets very dangerous. Mapping is a multi-million dollar (if not billion) industry..
In August 2015 Nokia was approached by legal representatives of the 3 big German car manufacturers (after it had rejected 3 billion dollars! from Uber) and accepted an offer for subsidiary Here. How much the German ended up paying, we will probably never know. Two main reasons drove them to this remarkable sale: Strong (foreign) competition and the need to make a joint mapping system.
Here’s biggest competitor is Google. Google Maps more specifically (and Google Street View to a lesser extent). Next in line are other search engines like Bing Maps (Microsoft), MapQuest OAL or even WikiMap. But except for Microsoft they are not really contesting to be integrated in the car industry. Last but not least there is the pack of driverless technology testing companies. Mobileye for example, which is working in collaboration with GM on a homemade mapped Road Experience Management system, building their maps along the way, or Tesla. Uber buying deCarta, TomTom working for Bosch, Apple Maps, open sourced FreeMap or RoadMap. Everyone is mapping and mapping is everywhere.
But foolproof driverless driving mapping is only possible with frequently updated information on very specific maps (1 inch maximum, imagining commercial GPS systems are accurate only to around 15 feet, and can be wrong by 150). And this demands a lot of data gathered by specified material, repetition and a LOT of money (A rough 2012 estimate found that maintaining the data for a global mapping service costs $1 billion to $2 billion per year). Google Maps and Here have a big advantage in quantity of time, data and experience. And with the investment of the German car producers Here is able to process data from more than 200 data-collecting vehicles roaming more than 1,000 cities in more than 100 countries. And their staff supplements that information with data provided by more than 2 million internationally connected vehicles.
Joint map making
Mapping is regulated by government. Certain things cannot be made public for anyone and some things have to be made. Internationally regulated high detailed maps would be beneficial to everyone, but mapping is big business and government protects and serves the companies in their territory first. This is why Google for example cannot offer its services in South Korea or China. Even Germany tried to ban Google from its street in 2013 but never succeeded. This is exactly why the three biggest carmakers in Europe or joining forces: to make the European geographical data theirs and to get the European government unified on their side.
And (except for other car manufacturers of course) the German car companies are getting other big companies on the Here side too. For example Facebook is using Here’s services receiving maps for location tagging on the main site, but also on Messenger, Instagram and Whatsapp. Moreover a day’s driving can accumulate 100 gigabytes or more of data, so to store all that information and to deliver it back to millions of car units, one needs high quality servers. As a result Amazon and Microsoft are in talks to becoming shareholders and supplying the cloud servers, which would put Here one step closer to surpassing Google.