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Is Japan Winning 3D Mapping Race for Autonomous Vehicles

image featuring iconic landscapes of Japan, roads, traffic, buildings, cars

Mitsubishi is leading the development in advanced 3D mapping for driverless cars. Fully supported by the Japanese government, it is allocating a substantial amount of research and development to create highly detailed and accurate mapping. Japan is taking charge to be the leader in this upcoming autonomous vehicles space and the upcoming 2020 Olympics will create a grand stage to showcase the technology.

A lot of tech companies are now hastening innovations in digital maps to guide driverless cars. GPS, guided by satellites, is currently in use extensively for marine and aviation industries. But, there is a need to scale the proportions for road use. Current maps can be quite inaccurate, and can be off by 65 feet. As a response, Mitsubishi promises to scale the distance inaccuracy down to 9.8 inches. Mitsubishi will commence initial testing in isolated areas like warehouses, with cars that are only semi-autonomous.

A Call for More Accurate Mapping in Autonomous Vehicles

Map makers are now rallying for more accurate mapping services following a self-driving car accident in March. Uber’s semi autonomous vehicle struck and killed a woman crossing the road in Phoenix, Arizona while testing. This is the first reported fatality in the industry, one that a more perceptive mapping system could have avoided.

Normal GPS apps, like Waze, use data from a community of users to determine destinations, routes, accidents, and hazards. On the other hand, autonomous and semi autonomous vehicles require a whole host of radars, sensors, cameras, and intelligent software. These will enable vehicles to have better control and management in the same way that humans do when driving. Accurate and precise information about directions, roads, pedestrians, and buildings are critical in enabling thoroughly careful navigation. Japan’s mapping for driverless cars would require a host of sensors and cameras to create a detailed and exact three-dimensional map of the surroundings. The 3D map would define the landscape, roads, trees, traffic signs, buildings, other cars, and even pedestrians.

For autonomous driving, 3D high-precision maps will be very important, allowing cars to know their positions accurately and also know what the roads are like ahead.” – Yasuhide Shibata, Mitsubishi Electric’s Senior General Manager   

Japan Government Push

In November, Japan will be gathering information from its three government satellites launched in 2017. Japan wants driverless cars to be available to the public by 2020 to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics. This is in keeping with their tradition of rolling out new innovations in time for major world events. In 1964 they debuted the bullet train around the same time as the Tokyo Summer Games.

Industry-Wide Mapping Developments

US, German, and Dutch companies had taken the lead in developing 3D maps, and now Japan is trying to catch up and surpass them.

Many companies all over the world are also joining the movement. TomTom from Netherlands and ZENRIN from Japan are partnering to deliver a combination of navigation services for driving in Japan. They aim to fulfill the needs of a society that relies on IoT, and provide new mobility services by creating a map platform with added value.

DeepMap, a California company co-founded by Google and Apple Maps veteran James Wu, has been collaborating with Honda. They envision to enable highly-scalable, precise, and HD maps for autonomous vehicles, all with extreme efficiency and low cost.

HERE, owned by German car manufacturers and Intel, is working with Pioneer and hopes to grow in the Japanese market with Toyota. Earlier this year Toyota hired Mandali Khalesi from HERE to lead its automated driving initiative. Their wish to edge out other companies by developing technology for both city driving and off-road, rural navigation.

Probably sooner than 2020, autonomous vehicles will be a huge part of our transportation experience. Not only will they be more intelligent in automatically navigate roads, but will also be safe for pedestrians and motorists alike.


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