Last year, BMW Audi and Daimler together dropped huge bucks on Nokia’s digital mapping service, HERE, to the tune of $3.1 billion. The idea was to acquire a sophisticated mapping service to help with autonomous technology while simultaneously keeping it out of the hands of outside competitors, such as Apple, Amazon and Facebook. However, HERE and its new owners have much bigger plans for the Berlin-based mapping company.
Forbes recently took a trip to Berlin to see HERE’s headquarters and was shown quite a lot of new technology and demonstrations that show HERE, as well as its automaker owners, are interesting in far more that just digital mapping for cars.
Yes, the main reason for HERE’s acquisition was to help provide a highly accurate digital mapping system that will help autonomous cars by providing precise locations within 10-20 centimeters. But HERE is planning on using its highly accurate and detailed maps to help change the transport, logistic and utility industries. Things like autonomous car-sharing and ride-hailing services could improve significantly, road safety for both cars and road workers will increase and utility services that repair roads, powerlines and other utilities will be allowed to see damages in real time without having to send out workers to check it in person. This will save both time and money for many companies as well as increase safety for both drivers and workers.
HERE will be able to do this thanks to its True Vehicles, which are very similar to Google’s Street View Vehicles. The True Vehicles use HERE’s Reality Lens technology, a lidar-based system that scans the car’s surroundings, creating 70,000 data points a second, according to HERE. This allows for incredibly accurate, photorealistic mapping imagery that can be used for a variety of different applications.
A joint statement from BMW, Audi and Daimler at the time of their purchase of HERE read “The acquisition is intended to secure the long-term availability of HERE’s products and services as an open, independent and value-creating platform for cloud-based maps and other mobility services accessible to all customers from the automotive industry and other sectors,”. According to both HERE and its automotive owners, the Berlin-based mapping service wants to become the “Kayak of urban mobility” (They’re referencing the airfare service, not the water craft).
What that means is that HERE wants to provide mapping to virtually every service that could use it, such as all car-sharing and ride-hailing services. HERE will also be looking into indoor mapping and mapping for drones. Amazon could use the latter right about now.
So while the core reason for BMW, Audi and Daimler purchasing HERE was to provide incredibly accurate mapping for they self-driving cars, it will be used for much more than that as well. Especially considering BMW’s investment into its own car-sharing services and new technologies. While it might not have seemed like a big deal a year ago, the acquisition of HERE could prove huge for BMW.