Why BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Have Joined Forces

In a show of collaboration, three car companies have pulled ahead of Silicon Valley in the race toward advanced vehicle navigation systems.

BMW in street

At the beginning of August, three German automaker giants joined forces and outbid the competition to acquire Nokia’s mapping technology, called HERE—to the tune of 3.1 billion dollars. According to WIRED, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes will each own an equal share of the company.

Why HERE is a Big Deal

The main draw of HERE’s mapping prowess isn’t navigation as we know it, but rather the potential for a leg up on the competition for driverless vehicles. WIRED detailed exactly why HERE has some of the best mapping intel available:

“HERE collects data at a rate of 100 billion points per month. Data sources include satellite and aerial imagery; anonymized ‘probe data’ from GPS devices inside fleet vehicles owned by trucking companies; and hundreds of cars operated by HERE itself, outfitted with all kinds of sensors, from GPS and cameras to LIDAR, a laser-based method for measuring distances.”

WIRED explains how that kind of tech gives automakers data about things like:

  • The precise location of lane markers and curbs
  • The height of traffic lights
  • What every traffic sign says

And every detail is “exact to the nearest centimeter,” as The Wall Street Journal reports. All “so that their self-driving cars can focus their sensors and computing power on obstacles that are right in front of them, such as cars, pedestrians, and cyclists.”

And for the immediate future? WIRED explains, “consumers expect any new car—self-driving or not—to come with a powerful navigation unit, which HERE makes possible.”

mercedes steering wheel

Beating Out the Competition

Another bonus for BMW, Audi, and Mercedes: ownership of HERE prevents their competition from taking advantage of both the navigation expertise and the self-driving potential. WIRED reports that both Uber and Google were part of the bidding for HERE—the former has positioned themselves to step beyond ridesharing and into other markets and the latter has made great strides in the driverless vehicle race (something that would put Google in competition with all the big automakers worldwide). Apple has also been in on the mapping game, sending their own vehicles out for data recording.

The Wall Street Journal explained that if automakers lost control of HERE, arguably the best mapping tech available, “That would put automakers at risk of losing control of information systems inside the car.”

Nokia's mapping tech will soon be integrated into both auto navigation systems and driverless cars.

As long as antitrust authorities green light the deal, these three German automakers will own Nokia’s HERE by the first quarter of 2016, and then we will all have to wait to see how the technology is integrated into future car design–both in navigation systems and the driverless vehicles of the future. For now, HERE navigation is available as apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.