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Mapping out autonomous driving

As someone who has always enjoyed driving, I have mixed emotions about the pending arrival of autonomous cars. On the one hand, I’m intrigued by the use of technology – all those embedded systems! On the other hand, when the day arrives when there’s nothing to do in your car but watch the scenery (or a video), I’ll miss being behind the wheel.

But, as I said, I’m intrigued by the technology that will be deployed, so I was interested to see an article in Tech Times the other day on Civil Maps. They’re a Silicon Valley startup that does 3D-mapping. The company just announced an investment round of $6.6M. Ford is one of the investors.

“Civil Maps is a startup that debuted in California in 2014 and makes use of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and local vehicle-based processing to turn data delivered by the car’s sensors into “meaningful map information.” Such information is paramount to the proper functioning of self-driving cars.” (Source: Tech Times)

Civil Maps relies on camera sensors and high-res laser imaging (LIDAR) to get its data. The data is then crunched, and “the end result is a machine-readable map that ‘requires a fraction of the data storage and transmission for existing technologies.’” AI software is what enables them to keep storage and transmission requirements low.

“Autonomous vehicles require a totally new kind of map,’ says Sravan Puttagunta, the helm of Civil Maps. Puttagunta mentions that the scalable map generation process helps self-driving cars drive just as humans would. This means that the vehicles will be ready to identify “on-road and off-road features,” whether or not they are fully visible or in a perfect state.”

Technology has long since done away with the need for the fold-out maps that everyone got from their gas station and kept in their glove boxes. (You went inside and picked up those maps when – get this – an attendant was filling your car up for you.) And I rather like using a GPS. But I also rather like driving. As I said, while I’m interested in the technology that goes into it, I’m not all that looking forward to self-driving cars.