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BMW, Audi, Mercedes Make Move to Dominate Autonomous Vehicle Tech

Rivals form unusual alliance to acquire Nokia Maps.

by on Aug.03, 2015

Audi, BMW and Mercedes have formed a partnership and purchase Nokia's mapmaking division, HERE.

Automakers have traditionally fought it out over design, performance, features and fuel economy. But, increasingly, they’re battling for technological dominance. And that’s led three erstwhile German rivals to form an unusual alliance that could give them a leg up when autonomous vehicles start to roll into showrooms in the coming decade.

BMW, Audi and Mercedes have teamed up to deliver the winning $2.8 billion bid to buy Nokia’s next-generation mapping business. They beat out rivals in both Silicon Valley and in China who had hoped to purchase the Nokia subsidiary, known as HERE, which is capable of producing much more details maps than those currently used by automotive navigation systems.

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“With the joint acquisition of HERE, we want to secure the independence of this central service for all vehicle manufacturers, suppliers and customers in other industries,” said Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche of Daimler AG.

The acquisition not only comes as a setback to various high-tech bidders, but also to rivals in the auto industry. The highly detailed maps HERE is producing could make it easier for future self-driving vehicles to accurately travel highways and byways without human intervention, providing far more detail than today’s maps. That could prove particularly useful in linking up to new vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure, or V2V and V2I, networks.

Good mapping is, in fact, considered critical to making tomorrow’s smarter cars work, whether fully autonomous vehicles or those that will still require a motorist to remain in control. Automakers are looking at a variety of features that will be triggered by mapping information, such as transmissions that will know the best gear to be in while on hilly roads, and headlights that will know to turn automatically to follow the curves on a highway.

The three German luxury makers were clearly worried about the possibility of having HERE fall into the hands of rivals, perhaps not being available to them at all. And, indeed, some of the former Nokia subsidiary’s other customers may now feel pressure to turn elsewhere. More than half of HERE’s 2015 revenues – estimated at $1.1 billion – will come from the auto industry.

(Bosch, TomTom developing new maps for autonomous vehicles. For more, Click Here.)

The acquisition could also prove a challenge for new entries into the automotive market, such as Apple, which is believed to be developing its own autonomous vehicle program, and Uber, the car-sharing service that has said it would like to eventually field a fleet of driverless vehicles.

The HERE acquisition could also put Google, the tech giant, into a new position of power. Google has been mapping much of the world’s roads, but it has also become a leader in the development of autonomous vehicle technology.

(Click Here for details about Daimler and Bosch creating a new valet system.)

The German coalition is expected to add a fourth partner, private equity firm General Atlantic, which could take as much as a third of the stake in HERE, according to a report by the Reuters news service.

The acquisition could spur the development of competing mapping services. TomTom, the navigation system manufacturer, has set up a similarly venture in a new partnership with the German supplier Bosch.

(To see more about the hacking concerns of American motorists, Click Here.)

HERE was created in 2008 when Nokia purchase the mapping company Navteq for $8.1 billion. It originally focused on smartphone navigation but later shifted emphasis to the auto industry.

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3 Responses to “BMW, Audi, Mercedes Make Move to Dominate Autonomous Vehicle Tech”

  1. Jorge says:

    It’s reported that AVs need maps accurate to within a foot and no one currently offers this for NAV systems. While Nokia’s maps may be good, there is the constant issue of streets changing and the updates for these changes taking months to be recorded and a software update becoming available for download. In addition there are always errors in the road maps used in NAV systems so in addition to all of the other technical challenges that exist for AVs, there will need to be some means for the AV to re-route itself when the maps are incorrect, the street no longer exists, the street has moved, etc.

    Another issue that many may not have considered is when the AV has no direct contact with the NAV satellites. There are many roadways through tunnels that prevent any signal to reach vehicles. Either these tunnels will need to have signal generators installed or the AV’s software will have to know how to adjust for a lost signal. Stopping in these tunnels is not possible in many cases and could cause a dangerous situation or massive multi-vehicle accident. A similar challenge may exist in below ground parking lots or similar where no signal is possible. What does the AV do then?

  2. DWH says:

    It does what has already be built into them. Darpa’s first contest consisted of 60 miles cross country desert terrain with no input to the vehicles. This ability was recognized at the beginning of developement. autonomous means autonomous. The second level Darpa was driving on city streets which was hard because of increased analogue input and greater computing and software development. Driverless trucks I worked on 15 years ago are were pretty simple compared to audis car turning fast laps in california. Mercedes ablity to find a parking space in a garage is already figured about limited input. Im sure the members of the flat earth tribe will find this troubling.
    using the same tech now is possible to single hand sail a 50foot plus sailboat across the oceans and dock with bow thrusters and multiplexing/can with a hand held controls and nobody at the rudder. Same software as parking a car except wind direction and currents variable included.

    • Jorge says:

      There is a big difference between having tech available and properly implementing it. See the recent Jeep software hack that landed a Jeep in the ditch because hackers immobilized the brakes and turned the steering towards the ditch. How well did the technology that Jeep used prevent this crash? Answer: IT DID NOT PREVENT IT. Do you think that maybe hackers will avoid AVs out of kindness?

      The rush-to-market mentality of those who falsely believe that AVs will take over the world is going to be costly to people’s lives and consumer’s pocketbooks because consumers will pay for the negligence of those who rush half-baked products to market. That is precisely why no AVs should be allowed on the roadways until their safety and fail safe systems are proven. The Jeep incident is a perfect example of clueless engineers and programmers in denial. When safety and security is an after thought, the Jeep is the end result.

      BTW it’s no big deal at all to drive laps around a race track with an AV when you program the track layout into the software and use satellites to make sure the car follows the track layout. Try driving through a mile long tunnel WITHOUT programming the road coordinates into the computer and see what happens.

      As a very experience professional in the automotive industry for over 30 years, I’m no flat earth loony. I’ve witnessed the rushed-to-market mentality many times and seen the aftermath. It ain’t pretty and it’s negligent to allow this carnage to occur. Obviously attacking the messenger doesn’t change reality as the Jeep incident proves.