As technology progresses, the promise of the proliferation of self-driving cars becomes that much more pronounced. After all, studies show that more than 37,000 Americans die on the road each year. On a global level, that number swells to an astonishing 1.3 million.
When you stop to think about the fact that about 90 percent of all car accidents are caused by human error – whether it’s the main cause or a contributing one – the promise of self-driving cars begins to make more sense. After all, as technology becomes increasingly precise, it’s not hard to imagine a future where human error is removed from the driving equation altogether.
The end result? Considerably fewer accidents, lower insurance premiums and more time to be productive – you can read a book on your commute home from work instead of dealing with the stop-and-go traffic.
While no car manufacturers have yet to take an absolute lead in autonomous cars just yet – sure, there are Google’s cars – the accident-free streak which has ended – as well as Audi’s and others. However, it still remains to be seen which company will dominate the market. Who knows? It might even be one we’ve not yet heard of.
Nokia’s HERE: The Key to Driverless Cars?
The mapping unit, believe it or not, is arguably the most important piece of technology relating to driverless cars. After all, in order for driverless cars to work, they need to know the roads – almost better than you and I do. Beyond simply knowing the roads, they need to be able to learn changes in roadways, where construction is occurring, where curbs are, where the lane markers are and more. Otherwise, we might very well see those accident figures climb higher – the opposite of the intention.
Since April, Nokia has been trying to sell its HERE property – which is the technology that powers about 80 percent of car global positioning system units. Unlike two-dimensional maps made by companies like Google and Bing, the HERE mapping system is considerably more complex. Instead of simply telling you how to get from point A to point B, these systems are designed to be immaculately accurate – within inches.
Beyond relying solely on satellite data like many other maps, HERE combines that information with boots on the ground. Across the globe, the unit’s 6,000 employees routinely head out into the field, so to speak, to chart any changes in the lay of the land. This combination results in the comprehensive nature of HERE maps – and the reason companies like Uber, Baidu and a grouping of German car manufacturers, among others, are interested in snatching up the Nokia property.
Why HERE Could Be a Game Changer
Though Google has yet to officially dip its toes into the vehicle realm on a commercial basis, it’s not hard to imagine that happening in the future. Because Google Maps are so widespread and complete, the Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet juggernaut would have a significant advantage over manufacturers lacking a comparable technology – at best, they’d have to pay licensing fees to use it.
This makes the interest of a disruptive company like Uber so interesting. The ride-sharing service is clearly interested in the technology. Instead of having to pay its drivers in the future, a driverless fleet of Ubers could transport passengers with ease. There’s just one catch: Those cars would have to be powered by accurate maps, leaving no room for mistakes. Which is precisely why the company is interested in HERE.
The German car consortium – which includes BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz – are interested in the technology for their own reasons, too. After all, no one is really positioned to compete with Google in terms of mapping – besides Nokia, that is, because it currently owns HERE.
One thing’s for certain: It’ll be interesting to see which bidder wins the rights to HERE. With what’s at stake, don’t be surprised to see the selling price eclipse $3 billion or even $4 billion. Whoever ends up with the property will almost assuredly become a frontrunner in the driverless car sweepstakes.
Photo credit: HERE
Kayla Mathews is a writer and blogger with a passion for technology and gadgets. Follow her on Google+ and Twitter to get updates on all of her latest posts.