Here sells stake to Intel, Chinese, signs Mobileye to real-time vision

Automotive-focused mapping platform Here has had a busy week at CES, announcing a string of deals that sees it further its ambitions to become the leading platform for automakers looking to build autonomous vehicles. With collaborations with Intel, Mobileye, and Nvidia, Here’s owners Audi, BMW, and Daimler have also been cashing in on its success, selling a 15% stake to Intel, and 10% to a trio of Chinese firms.

The Mobileye deal is likely the most important announcement for Here, and sees it sign a strategic partnership with the company to integrate data from Mobileye’s automotive machine-vision sensors into Here’s Open Location Platform (OLP) – by integrating Mobileye’s Global Roadbook (GLRB) as a data layer.

On paper, this is going to greatly increase the accuracy of the OLP, by adding contextually up-to-date landmark and roadway information pulled from vehicles using Mobileye’s sensors – the eye’s of many of the most advanced semi-autonomous cars on the market. These vehicles will be piping the Road Segment Data (RSD) generated by Mobileye’s REM technology to the Here cloud, which will then be able to be shared with other vehicles using Here’s Live Map platform.

For Here, this improves the quality of its maps and services, and for Mobileye, the use of its vision sensors in conjunction with Here’s maps should add noticeable value to the system for the automakers. It’s not clear if any money is changing hands between the two companies, but this does look like a rather cooperative deal – in a week that also saw Here sell 25% of itself to Intel and that Chinese trio.

Before the two transactions, Audi, BMW, and Daimler each held a third of Here. Collectively, the trio-consortium reduced their individual stakes to 25%, selling 15% of what was left to Intel and another 10% to Tencent, NavInfo, and GIC. No prices have been disclosed, and the individual holdings of the Chinese companies haven’t been revealed either.

The transactions are also the basis of new ventures for Here. With Intel, the two companies say they plan to develop a “highly scalable proof-of-concept architecture that supports real-time updates of high-definition maps for highly and fully automated driving as well as explore opportunities in IoT and machine learning.”

For Intel, this is a fairly straightforward way for it to secure the mapping and locational data that it needs to power its automotive ambitions. With a little dot-joining, one can spot the impetus behind the deal; namely, Intel’s previous partnership with Mobileye and BMW to build a fleet of fully autonomous cars by 2021, and Here’s aforementioned deal with Mobileye – adding a lot of contextual richness to the data sets.

As Here’s CEO, Edzard Overbeek, puts it, “a real-time self-healing and HD representation of the physical world is critical for autonomous driving, and achieving this will require significantly more powerful and capable in-vehicle compute platforms. As a premier silicon provider, Intel can help accelerate Here’s ambitions in this area, but support the creation of a universal, always up-to-date digital location platform that spans the vehicle, the cloud, and everything else connected.”

This is the latest step in Intel’s automotive transition, which has seen the division emerge from the IoT wing in the past year or so. That division is now getting its own brand, called Intel Go, which will revolve around new developer kits for automakers, based on its Atom and Xeon processors.

Whether Intel decides to acquire Mobileye to expand its silicon portfolio remains to be seen, but it looks like a sensible move for Intel to make, given its public ambitions. Mobileye’s current market-cap is around $9.9bn, which would make it a very expensive acquisition, but with a market-cap of around $174bn, Intel could afford it.

Also announced at the show was a collaboration with UI-designer Rightware, which sees the pair work to better integrate Here’s data with Rightware’s design tools, and that drone-maker DJI has picked Here to power its DJI GO app, which allows pilots to track and fly their drones – and even has an offline mode.

The latest CES announcement (before we go to press, at least) is that Here is introducing Electronic Horizon, a system that can provide real-time alerts to cars that can then take action accordingly. It looks like Electronic Horizon is based on Here’s Sensoris, which it is pushing as a global standard via ERTICO’s Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) working group.

With the Chinese transaction, Here is launching a strategic partnership with NavInfo (a location and mapping platform in China, essentially a rival to Here) and Tencent (an absolute monolith in the Chinese internet markets). The trio plan to develop best-in-class location services for the Chinese market.

Here and NavInfo will form a 50:50 joint venture to target the Chinese industries, with Here extending its current portfolio of services (which includes the automotive stuff, as well as a growing presence in things like web and mobile applications) to China.

The Here Auto SDK will be localized to suit the Chinese market, with plans to collaborate to create and provision the HD maps that will be required for autonomous vehicles in China. The two companies are also planning to target applications like fleet management and asset tracking through the joint venture.

NavInfo’s CEO, Patrick Cheng, said “the automotive industry is on the eve of revolution to autonomous driving and alternative energy. We are excited about joining forces and uniting market leaders. NavInfo and Here have a more than ten-year cooperation history, and are now both in transformation phase.”

As for Tencent’s involvement, the internet titan is planning on using Here’s maps in its local and international services, as well as general product development collaboration. Julian Ma, Tencent’s VP Mobile Internet Group, said the deal “demonstrates our commitment to connect our users with best-in-class services. Combining Here’s world-leading technologies with Tencent’s social strength, unique understanding of user behavior and broad location data ecosystem, this collaboration further enhances Tencent’s location services. It also facilitates Tencent’s exploration of future technologies, including autonomous driving and AI.”

Tencent’s main rival Baidu was recently involved with BMW in plans to build a Baidu-powered self-driving car. However, back in December, BMW abruptly ended its development relationship with Baidu, citing irreconcilable differences, with Baidu announcing that it would be searching for another manufacturing partner – and having previously used Cherry vehicles in tests, alongside BMW. Baidu has also partnered with Nvidia to use the company’s Drive PX2 computers in its vehicles.

And speaking of Intel’s chief automotive rival, which has also got its claws in Here, we have dealt with Nvidia’s announcements in a separate article. The new partnership sees Here use Nvidia’s MapWorks AI tech to improve its HD Live Map, with Nvidia developing a localization technology for HD Live Map as part of its DriveWorks software – which will allow automakers using the Drive PX 2 computer to integrate the Here localization. The third part of the agreement sees the pair collaborate on incorporating real-time updates into the in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems, so that occupants can see the changes dynamically.