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BMW, Audi, Daimler buy Nokia’s mapping unit: an autonomous future is nigh

Published: 08 December 2015

► Equal stake for three car makers
► Fully autonomous driving push
► Here supplies 80% of mapping data

BMW, Audi and Daimler (Mercedes) have successfully completed their €2.8 billion (£2 billion) joint purchase of Nokia’s Here mapping business. Following an earlier announcement in August, this confirms the acquisition has met with approval from all the relevant authorities.

The premium giants have bought the navigation firm as a key step in their push towards fully autonomous vehicles; Nokia's spin-off gives them access to precise digital maps and real-time vehicle location data, seen as necessary to increase road safety and limit the chances of a collisions amongst driverless cars.

What exactly is Nokia's Here?

Nokia’s Here is an open-platform, cloud-enhanced navigation system, which already supplies map data for cars in North America and Europe. It uses a combination of 'static' data captured by cars fitted with high-resolution 3D-mapping technology and real-time information supplied by a network of connected devices – including but not limited to cars – in order to provide accurate, up-to-date detail.

Currently Here has access to 80,000 sources, which generate 'billions' of 'probe points' every day. Its acquisition by the German trio is set to increase the number of base sources considerably...

Isn't it unusual to see these rivals working together?

It's not unheard of, but Audi, BMW and Daimler's cooperation in this instance underlines just how important accurate mapping and connected car data is set to become to the future of road transport. CAR spoke to BMW board member Ian Robertson about Here in November:

'The reason we have allied with Mercedes and Volkswagen [Audi] is because in autonomous driving, the map becomes fundamental. There are three mapping companies in the world: Google, Here and TomTom. We decided we wanted to own one as it's fundamental to a lot of things. It's a good idea to share it, it's important to have an open platform [which Here will remain] and between the three German OEMs we're selling 10 million cars a year. The real-time updating will have [better] density as an information source [with a greater scale of vehicles].

'Current mapping is accurate to just under one metre, but for autonomy it needs to be accurate to less than one centimetre. It needs updating extremely quickly, forms a fundamental part of driving the business forward, and a different business model.'

So that's 10 million potential sources of information, each generating huge numbers of probe points every day. Here will be actively encouraging its existing users to join this enhanced data exchange, as the more information it gathers, the better it will work. It promises that all data gathered is anonymised.

What do the Germans plan to do with Here?

The ownership of Here will be shared equally between BMW, Audi and Daimler. But the deal includes provision to keep the system independent - so other car makers that already use the system can continue doing so. Here currently supplies four out of five cars sold in North American and Europe with their digital maps.

According to Harald Kruger, chairman of the board of management of BMW, ‘Here will play a key role in the digital revolution of mobility, combining high-definition maps and data from vehicles to make travel safer and easier for everyone.' Daimler says that the benefits to owning the system are enormous: Here will facilitate real-time warnings in extreme conditions; be able to tailor stability systems to avoid a collision; and even warn drivers if their entry speed is too fast for an upcoming corner. It claims the vision of accident-free driving is gradually becoming a reality. 

Click here to read nine glimpses into how we'll all (not) be driving in the future.

By Matt Bell

Former digital intern at CAR

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