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Self updating map

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Mapper’s chief product officer, Jonathan Glanz, estimates that when the company scales up, it will be able to maintain its base map with about 10 thousand mappers—far fewer than Uber’s hundreds of thousands.“We won’t need a humongous fleet because we can select the tasks for mapping,” says Alonso Patron, Mapper’s chief technology officer.

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If you had one map—and evolved it using contracted drivers and other data submitted by the customers themselves—it would be like the Intel Inside of 3D maps, the standard digital atlas for the autonomous vehicles that will be our future chauffeurs.Self-driving cars can’t operate without such maps.“As humans, if we are blindfolded and dropped in a new place, we'll find our bearings—we have millions of years of common sense to help guide our awareness,” says Nikhil Naikal, Mapper’s CEO.“A machine, on the other hand, needs a large amount of up-to-date 3D map data to have foresight of what to expect around the corner.They are meant for machines, not humans, and when you see them rendered, they are made up of glowing pixels where objects, lane markers, and traffic signals are delineated by rough shapes and tell-tale colors.These are the maps of the future, and allegedly the bedrock of a multi-billion-dollar market.Think of the work as an alternative to driving for Uber and Lyft, without having to deal with customer ratings or backseat outbursts from Travis Kalanick.

The key to Mapper’s scheme is that it can create high-definition 3D maps without using lidar.

If companies want to customize that map for their needs, Mapper will accommodate them. “We focus on building that core base layer ourselves, owning the data, making it available for all.” When customers have specific needs they can send their own data to Mapper, which can layer it on top of its base map.

After testing the system in Old Alexandria, Virginia, earlier in the year, Mapper is now busily doing a digital Mason-Dixon on San Francisco, hoping to finish a base map of the city by Thanksgiving.

Once it creates the base map and keeps updating it—“like a living organism,” says Naikal—Mapper can license the product to customers such as automakers, transportation services like Uber, and even technology companies like Apple and Waymo.

What all of those customers have in common is that they are currently paying to do their own mapping, and would have to spend a lot more money for complete coverage.

The company has created a femur-sized plastic device called the S1, which has multiple cameras and sensors that goes over one’s dashboard and a single cable connecting it to the cigarette lighter for power. “It cost $350 to make, it’s composed of commodity parts, and it is designed so it can be easily installed in any car,” says Naikal.