The automation of cars is well underway and as technology continues to move ahead, human drivers will become less relevant. Fully automated cars will soon be the norm and they will become commonplace on the highways.
Luke Pulaski is driving a white Volkswagen hatchback but it is not an ordinary car. The Volkswagen hatchback is a data collection automobile with Nokia stickers and chunky antennas, laser cameras, and other technological data-capturing gadgets worth tens of thousands of dollars.
As Luke Pulaski walked to the research center at Berkeley, other engineers were monitoring hundreds of similar vehicles all around the world. They are gathering data for the next generation online maps. The maps being developed are not intended for human users because they will be used to guide self driving cars.
Berlin-based Nokia calls them the high definition (HD) maps which are very important for the auto industry. Audi and Volvo have already demonstrated that cars can park themselves. Automakers do not to depend on Google and its HD mapping or on anyone else that has so much power over map development that they ultimately lose control over their data as well as the way they design and manufacture cars.
Apart from auto manufacturers like Daimler, Volvo and Audi, Uber on-demand transportation app giant has bought the map startup deCarta last March. The maps that drivers look at online at Here.com and Google Maps on the dashboard are simple representations of the world but for self-driving cars, 99% accuracy is very critical.
In order for a car to drive itself, it must be familiar with the environment from the number of lanes on the road to the exact location of road markings. An HD map will help the car make decisions like when it should change lanes when it approaches a freeway off-ramp. For that level of detail, companies need to invest in expensive rigs that can capture more data than a typical driver would need.
Each rig like the one mounted on the VW has the GPS antenna that collects basic information on where the car is located and a Lidar sensor, a laser scanner that helps in identifying road signs, markings including road curvature. In the next five years, the company expects to be closer to self-driving cars.