A few years ago, a consortium of German auto makers acquired the Nokia Maps business to help embed the system into their cars and to manage their relationships with Apple and Google.
Nokia had bought a company called Navteq back in 2007. Navteq was a mapping company that used first hand knowledge of terrain rather than official Government sourced maps unlike many of their competitors. This allowed them to effectively bring together many sources of data to build a more comprehensive picture than was typically available at that time.
Navteq was originally based in Chicago and its venture capital backers sold it to the Dutch company, Philips Electronics in the early 1990s who tried several times to float the subsidiary until they finally sold it to Nokia. They rolled it into their eco-system, finally renaming a whole collection of mapping systems as Nokia Maps in 2011 having bought several smaller mapping technology companies. The following year (2012), Nokia decided to rename the subsidiary “Here”, as in here we go!
In 2015 Audi, BMW and Daimler combined funds to acquire the company and then started to sell off portions of it to others: firstly an attempt was made to sell a chunk to a Singaporean/Chinese consortium, however the US Administration blocked it. Last year Intel bought 15% of the company (to go with their acquisition of Mobileye) and earlier this year Continental and Bosch bought another 5% each.
This technology is a key component in modern vehicles – whether they are autonomous or not. Most mid range cars and upwards have some form of GPS mapping built in and certainly for new cars that are heading towards autonomy, this has to be the core system. As described earlier, Nokia Maps/Here competes against Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto by being contextually aware through the input of more data sources. Apple and Google are heading this way as well so Here has had to evolve faster.
The combining of technologies happening today means that the vehicle systems can start to overlay more information. Traffic Warning Systems can overlay congestion onto the maps and recommend the driver to take a different route. Here’s City Lens system can overlay augmented reality to provide more granular information and a Sensor Ingestion Interface enables more data input, analysis and decision making – great for fully autonomous cars.
Here has now released the Highly Automated Driving system that combines their systems and data sources to provide “location based intelligence” that means that the vehicle knows where it is, what is around it and how to get to the next location. The data can provide full information about the road structure: markings, legal speed, where the barriers are and even the depth of corner curvature, enabling the vehicle to smoothly traverse the road systems.
Clearly Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars are fitted with technology from Here as well as many other manufacturers, however, the technology is also being used by public transportation, telecom and retail companies. One area to note – getting ready for the time that no one actually controls a car is that the technology can be used by publishers and advertisers to push messaging through to the vehicle based on where it is. I hope that this will be able to be turned off by the passengers!
Mobile payments are also in the mix so in theory, a passenger could see an advertisement for pizza, pay for it and have the vehicle make a detour to collect the nosh on the way home! The other sub-industry that Here works in, is to provide location based services for insurance companies. As described in some other articles I’ve written over the years, this provides the insurance companies with very granular data that can help them define the risk and therefore the premiums to charge.
It was probably a great move by the auto companies to buy and invest in this company. As I have also described in recent weeks, many successful tech companies of the late 1990s and early 2000s have been struggling in this decade and getting these gems split off is good because we could have seen them sink with the parent ship.