In the modern world, there's an updated version to this. The war is now over autonomous cars. Sensor-laden robots are capable of recognizing and reacting to their surroundings. However, the industry believes that there’s a need for high definition (HD) digital maps in order for self-driving cars to operate safely.
These HD maps aren’t like normal smartphone navigation apps, they reach a level of accuracy of 4 in! They are the key to making precise turns and keeping these vehicles in their lanes. Millions of dollars are currently being invested in companies that make maps, like TomTom, Here Technologies, and Google.
Now, ex-engineers of iRobot and Tesla have joined this venture and with a guerilla approach. They launched Lvl5, a crowdsourced mapping company, which collects valuable mapping data via Uber drivers and other transportation apps. Lvl5's CEO, Andrew Kouri, said they were wondering who is on the road a lot. They thought of Uber drivers and now they will pay these drivers to help them create HD maps. Truck and Lyft drivers will take part in their venture as well.
According to Kouri, HD maps are like the sheet music of self-driving cars. These cars need to rely on maps and different landmarks in order to figure out their current location when the GPS fails.
He saw these companies’ problems of getting extremely detailed maps, which are necessary for self-autonomous vehicles. These maps don't just need to be HD, but they have to cover massive swaths of land as well. What's more, they need to be updated on a regular basis as road conditions change constantly.
"When I was still working at Tesla, I was shocked because there was a demand for these maps but no one was making them yet" said Lvl5's young CEO. This is the aim of Lvl5: to address this particular issue.
Lvl5 made its debut with the startup accelerator program, Y Combinator. Its seed funding is $2 million and it's now crowdsourcing data in order to create HD maps of each route within the country. These maps will be sold by the startup to car companies directly.
Kouri and Erik Reed, the co-founder of Lvl5, were ex-engineers of Tesla. They were part of the company's internal mapping team and the two are now utilizing the model of Tesla with their startup.
Kouri designed Payver, an app which allows drivers to snap pictures of the street. In order to use the app, all drivers need to do is to download it and position their phones properly so the camera can have a clear view of the road.
Kouri said he had to knock from window to window and hand out Uber drivers with free phone mounts for them to sign up on the app. Even with the issue, the company looks promising and will definitely play a big role in the future of self-driving cars.