Five years ago, the most sophisticated in-car navigation system displayed roads and street names, using GPS to locate a vehicle within a few yards and provide mostly reliable turn-by-turn driving directions.
To update the map on road changes, owners had to go to their dealership for a new disc with the latest data and upload it to the car. Maybe owners used their onboard nav systems; maybe they didn't.
For the coming generation of self-driving vehicles, digital maps are critically important. Mapping is no longer a convenience feature, but must be precise enough to safely guide vehicles when no human is behind the wheel.
To address the increased need for precision, traditional digital mapmakers such as Here and TomTom International, and newcomers such as DeepMap and Civil Maps, are using new developments in cloud storage and high-powered sensors to generate maps that can pinpoint a vehicle and its surroundings within inches.
The industry has not settled on a path for mapping technology, and emerging suppliers are moving in different directions.
Through a partnership with Bosch, TomTom is constructing live maps via radar sensors that surround research vehicles. Eventually, the maps will be constantly updated from data gathered by cars using Bosch radar systems installed as part of automated driving functions.
DeepMap is forgoing research vehicles, developing software that will translate data picked up by passenger vehicle sensors into a detailed map.
Here, a mapmaker jointly owned by BMW, Daimler and Audi, is building its product based on a roadway mapping system developed over the past decade.
Here introduced its HD Live Map concept in January 2016 as a system intended to provide autonomous vehicles with detailed and updated information on their surroundings. The map is generated from data collected from Here's global fleet of 500 research vehicles. The data created a "base layer" of road information, with real-time information continually added from sensors on other vehicles.
"The HD map bridges what the vehicle sees to what it should do," said Sanjay Sood, vice president of highly automated driving at Here. "It provides a detailed view of the roadway, helping the vehicle position itself on the road."
Navigation became a generic vehicle feature thanks to the proliferation of Google Maps and Apple Maps on smartphones, Sood said. But the heightened importance of maps to autonomous vehicles became apparent in 2013, when Daimler performed its first self-driving demonstration. That experiment had an autonomous vehicle follow the historic route of the first recorded long-distance drive in an automobile in 1888 — a 180km (112-mile) round trip in southwest Germany by Bertha Benz, wife and business partner of German auto pioneer Karl Benz