News broke today that Ford has invested in a startup called Civil Maps, as part of a group that raised a $6.6 million funding round.
I did not work directly with Civil Maps while I was at Ford, but there was a lot of excitement around the company, so I have a general understanding of what they do.
Civil Maps creates “semantic maps”, which differ from traditional maps in that semantic maps convert raw sensor data into units like lane lines and intersections and curbs.
In particular, Civil Maps’ semantic map format is super-compressed, which means that corrections can be transmitted over cellular networks. This makes it feasible to crowd-sourcing map data from people’s smartphones.
Mapping has been one of the chokepoints in the autonomous vehicle world, with less than a handful of companies capable of supplying the data that autonomous vehicles need to function. And almost all of those companies are owned in some fashion by OEMs.
- HERE (owned by a consortium of German OEMs)
- Uber (their mapping program is under construction)
Ford’s investment in Civil Maps continues that pattern, and hopefully in a way that makes the field more competitive.