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The self-driving cars of tomorrow must be able to navigate with centimeter precision. A company called HERE, in which Audi is a shareholder, creates the digital map needed to achieve this – the HERE HD Live Map.

Text
Johannes Köbler

Illustration
Lightshape

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In the live roads layer, the HERE map incorporates real-time information on the traffic environment. Together with the HD map, they will be able to provide a wide range of useful services to car drivers in the near future. Let’s face it – all sorts of things can happen on the daily commute.

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HERE has enormous experience in the navigation map business – but with the HERE HD Live Map, the company is taking a huge step forward. The new data platform depicts the traffic space as a three-dimensional model with a whole new level of precision – it is accurate down to centimeters, not meters, and dynamic instead of static. The HERE HD Live Map forms the digital basis for the piloted driving of the future.

The new map is divided into square tiles, known as map tiles, with each edge measuring 2.0 kilometers. This division means that immense data volumes can be split into manageable portions. The updates within each tile can be measured in kilobytes. The data is hosted on a HERE backend in the cloud, with tran­s­­fer to and from the cars most likely handled via the cell phone network. Today’s LTE standard is already facilitating all sorts of things, while future 5G networks promise to raise data transfer rates and connection speeds even more substantially.

The HERE HD Live Map is structured in three layers. The first of them, the HD map, incorporates a static digital image of the surroundings. Guardrails, stoplights, road signs, curbsides and similar fixed objects forms the reference points on which the self-driving cars of the future will be able to orientate themselves with centimeter precision. The HD map also includes a database of information on hotels, business and restaurants.

 

 

The second layer carries the “live roads” information. This is a dynamic level that holds current data in nearly real time. Construction zones, accidents, emergencies, black ice or fog – the live roads content comes from various different sources, but primarily from the sensors of participating cars. The intelligent swarm generates extensive traffic knowledge that is always up-to-date, on things like green waves in city traffic, changing speed limits and available parking spaces.

The third layer is the “humanized driving” section – which is an investment in the near future. The self-driving cars of the future will find out from the HERE data pool how the driver has behaved in a certain situation similar to the current one – whether, for instance, he braked sooner or a little later in response to a slower-moving vehicle on the highway. This monitoring will enable the system to adapt its behavior to the habits and expectations of the driver.

The HERE HD Live Map is still under development – however, some of its functions are already being used by a large number of networked cars in North America and Western Europe. For Audi customers, the map makes demanding driver assistance functions like traffic jam assist or predictive efficiency assist even more exact and powerful. The new car-to-x services for providing information on traffic signs and dangers ahead will likewise be based on the HERE HD Live Map in future.

 

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A consortium made up of AUDI AG, the BMW Group and Daimler AG acquired Berlin-based map database HERE from the Nokia Corporation at the end of 2015. As one of the strongest players in the sector, HERE provides digital navigation maps and location-based services for almost 200 countries in more than 50 languages. These maps are available to a level of detail suitable for automotive use for 136 of these countries. 80 percent of all cars currently driving in Europe and North America with integrated navigation systems are equipped with HERE maps.

Employing around 6,500 people, the map service remains an open, independent, continuously expanded and updated platform for cloud-based maps and mobility services even after the acquisition. Acces­sible for all customers within the automotive industry and other sectors, HERE is laying the foundation for piloted driving and the development of new mobility services.

 

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Our driver wants to travel from his home to work in piloted mode. There has been an accident involving injuries at an intersection on his route. The paramedic vehicle and police car continuously transmit their location data to the HERE backend. Every user nearby receives a warning tailor-made for him, enabling him to take the necessary avoiding action.

 

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Stoplight information is one of the services provided on the HERE map, providing information to the networked cars and their drivers on the switching phases for the stoplights along their route. If they adapt their speed accordingly, they can ride the green wave, saving considerable time and energy.

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A particular part of the city is currently experiencing a heavy downpour. The cars driving through here identify the situation via their sensors and windshield wiper and notify the backend in the cloud. When a piloted Audi receives the advisory, it reduces its speed in plenty of time. Convertibles and roadsters close their roofs.

 

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The workplace destination is in the city, where there are no employee parking spaces. Our piloted Audi has to drive itself to one of the nearby parking garages, where the centimeter-precise HD map helps it find its way around with great accuracy. In a subsequent HERE iteration, it will also receive detailed information on available parking spaces.

 

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The new HERE HD map uses around 80,000 different sources worldwide, including data from traffic control centers and land registries, images from satellites and aircraft and camera images from fleet vehicles. The lion’s share comes from around 200 HERE “True Cars” that drive along roads and capture information.

Mounted on the roof of the current measurement cars is a rotating LiDar device (Light Detection and Ranging). It continuously sends ultra-short light pulses on a wavelength of 905 nanometers – invisible to the human eye and harmless. The object being scanned reflects the beams back to the receiver unit. The software calculates the distance between object and sensor based on the elapsed time.

The 360-degree scans made by HERE “True Cars” generate 700,000 pixels per second, adding up to 140 gigabytes of data per day. The pixel cloud creates a 360-degree image of the surroundings extending for a distance of up to 80 meters and a height of 30 meters. The rolling and nodding movements made by the car while driving are recorded separately and calculated out of the data set.

LiDar technology has considerable strengths, but also certain handicaps. Its high angular resolution means it can identify objects with great certainty – e.g. it can differentiate between a trashcan and a pedestrian at the side of the road, even if there are right next to each other. Because LiDar systems use their own light, they also work at night. However, their performance deteriorates in bad weather such as rain, snow and fog.

LiDar devices do not deliver color or brightness values for their surroundings, instead measuring the intensity of the reflected beam. They can have problems with strong or weak reflections (due to dirt) from traffic signs and road markings. During image generation, this information is processed with the aid of camera data before being integrated into the HD map.

 

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is General Manager of Audi Electronics Venture GmbH (AEV), a 100-percent subsidiary of AUDI AG. Within the HERE consortium, he represents Audi on the technical level./span>

 

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Paving stones that can use embedded sensors to signal available parking spaces; Audi models that can chauffeur their owners overnight from Ingolstadt to Florence. AEV General Manager Peter Steiner shows us the new perspectives opened up by the HERE map.

Dr. Steiner, HERE has earned a good reputation in a very short space of time. Are there interested parties that want to invest?

Dr. Steiner: We’re in talks with companies from the tech sector, with Chinese providers and with other auto­makers and tier-one suppliers. The primary aim is to build up the leading cross-industry and multi-OEM location platform and the HD map necessary for automated driving. An open platform naturally needs standardized interfaces, but that can be resolved technically. HERE has tabled a productive proposal in the form of its Sensor Data Cloud Ingestion Interface. We are also talking to the partners I mentioned about possible financial investment. The stated aim is the acquisition of further shareholders to provide access to expertise from other industries and other countries.

How open is your consortium to third parties?

Dr. Steiner: HERE will allow third-party developers access for a fee – be it a joint venture partner, a systems supplier or a start-up. They can then develop their appli­cations and sell them to customers. This principle applies not only the automotive sector, but also to a whole array of service providers and the public domain, too. Cities and their traffic management systems can use our data to massively optimize their traffic flow. In some major cities, for instance, there are parking spaces that are not covered in any way by the administration system. In future, it will be possible to embed a sensor into a paving stone for just a few euros. It can then inform us whether an individual parking spot is occupied or not.

Who are your partners and who are your rivals in the digital HD map?

Dr. Steiner: Microsoft would like to strengthen its offering of location-based services and is talking to HERE about that. Facebook and Samsung are likewise customers. Google is certainly a major player and is pushing harder and harder into business areas where we are or should also be involved. But competition motivates us to stay on the ball.

 

Are you currently in a race with Silicon Valley?

Dr. Steiner: The foundations already exist for all the projects we are currently discussing. IT technology is not rocket science – the mathematics is well known. What matters is putting the bricks together to create a new building, and that’s made possible by the computing power and vast amounts of data we now have today. But we need experts to execute this and there aren’t many of those around. We have to set out a strong stall against Silicon Valley, as the companies there have a whole lot of capital for securing the necessary competences. In order to be better equipped, we joined forces with BMW and Daimler in acquiring HERE.

In the new HERE map, the cars generate the live data themselves. Does this mean the HERE consortium is establishing a decisive lead?

Dr. Steiner: Each car driving with intelligent sensors is paying into the account with its anonymized data. AUDI AG represents the Volkswagen Group in the consortium, because, together with BMW and Daimler, it is competing for the most state-of-the-art sensor technologies. We’ll be bringing LiDar technology to the roads within the foreseeable future. We’re also benefitting greatly from the Group in return, because we can use the camera data from the high-volume models.

How many cars with intelligent sensors are needed for real swarm intelligence on the road?

Dr. Steiner: Several hundred thousand intelligently sighted cars, i.e. the inventory now achieved by Audi, BMW and Daimler, will enable us to generate the data for a semi-dynamic HD map. If a traffic sign changes, we usually notice it within a week. By 2020, when there will be millions of intelligent cars, it’ll just take a day or maybe even a few seconds.

 

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Dr. Peter Steiner
General Manager of AEV

 

How will the data be hosted in the cloud?

Dr. Steiner: We will put the data into the cloud and take out as much computing power as we need – surely at its highest during rush hour and less so during the night and at the height of summer when everyone is on vacation. We’re talking here about “elastic computing”– this also means that the computing power can be more or less expensive depending on need and capacity utilization.

How do you assure data protection?


Dr. Steiner: For the HD Live Map, the idea is to generate as much anonymized sensor data as possible in order to offer intelligent services from its analysis. As is the case today, we will continue to strictly separate personal data from the vehicle data we need for functions.

And piloted cars will need vast amounts of data …

Dr. Steiner: Yes, and it means the highly autonomous car will be considerably superior to the human being, because the collective intelligence is unbeatable. Ex­peri­­ence comes only from learning. And we’ll soon have cars able to use the experience values of millions of other cars that have already handled all imaginable traffic situations. This wealth of experience is larger and more valuable than anything an individual can process during his lifetime.

 

If all new Audis will soon be able to pilot themselves perfectly with the aid of the HERE map, what happens to the brand identity?

Dr. Steiner: I’m not worried about that at all. An Audi will always be an Audi – with a great design, emotional drive, top quality and fantastic fun to drive. But now there’s another level to that. If you look at Apple, you realize that it also sells products with great hardware – but what makes the iPhone really sexy is access to the App Store. And this is exactly what we have to do. We have to offer new services in addition to the car – such as piloted driving.

If someone would like to be driven overnight from Ingolstadt to Florence, perhaps he will use an Audi for the trip, precisely because we have mastered piloted driving so well. The better car, the more intelligent service, the more emotionally portrayed application – I’m certain that our piloted cars will have an incredibly strong brand character.

 

ID: Audi_Dialoge_Technologie_2_2016_Here_and_now_EN

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