Mapping firm HERE looks beyond driverless cars to drones, robots

HERE's going not just there, but everywhere autonomy is needed

Related: We obsessively covered the Frankfurt Motor Show — here's our complete coverage

FRANKFURT, Germany — HERE, the digital mapping company controlled by Germany's premium carmakers, aims to expand its business beyond navigation for self-driving cars but also drones and advanced robotics, Chief Executive Edzard Overbeek said.

"We are expanding our strategy not just in autonomous driving but also in autonomous things," Overbeek said in an interview Thursday at the Frankfurt Motor Show. "Drones, trucks, advanced robotics."

German carmakers Daimler, Volkswagen and BMW bought HERE from mobile telecoms company Nokia for 2.8 billion euros in 2015 as part of a push into self-driving cars.

Intel holds a 15 percent stake and an Asian bidding group made up of Tencent, Navinfo and Singapore's GIC sovereign wealth fund have an undisclosed percentage.

Since the German takeover, other carmakers including Renault-Nissan have expressed an interest in buying a stake in HERE, but deals have not yet been concluded.

"We have multiple conversations ongoing," Overbeek said, adding that each potential investor must have a strategic rationale, be they carmakers or technology suppliers, dictated by the timing of their own moves into self-driving services.

Before investing, carmakers conduct a high-definition mapping test cycle, where they learn about what other investments need to be made to enable the development of autonomous vehicles.

"Autonomous driving is very much at the forefront of what they are trying to solve. This is not a simple problem," Overbeek said, adding that Stuttgart is already being mapped to enable local carmakers to start building autonomous car systems.

Live data fed from radars, standard cameras and 3D laser sensors on thousands of cars is then used to keep maps updated, in case potholes or new street signs emerge. But storing constantly updated maps on a broad scale — years before driverless cars go mainstream — is impractical, he said.

HERE is prioritizing more than a dozen cities in North America and Western Europe with plans to further expand that number by the end of the year, and has worked hard to automate mapmaking to enable a fast rollout.

"The question is do (we) have the automation ready to scale up when this thing flies. The answer is yes," Overbeek said.

By 2020, 95 percent of HERE's map infrastructure will update automatically, the company said.

HERE was also making an effort to target preferred partners which fit geographies where Overbeek wants to expand his mapping footprint.

Reporting by Edward Taylor and Eric Auchard

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