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The Missing Self-Driving Puzzle Piece? Hyper Local Maps

BERLIN—Thanks to advances in sensor and artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles are almost as smart as competent human drivers. But while a person instinctively knows how to quickly deal with, say, a road or lane closure due to construction, autonomous vehicles could easily become confused and take too long to deal with the situation as traffic backs up.

Nextcar Bug artThis is why we're seeing advances in mapping software, as well as acquisitions and partnerships that focus on the need for hyper-local, constantly updated maps. Part of the motivation for Intel buying sensor-maker Mobileye for $15 billion was to gain access to the company's Road Management Experience, which crowd-sources images from cameras in millions of cars to create highly accurate and constantly updated maps.

Similarly, German automotive supplier Bosch partnered with mapping giant TomTom to develop a platform that captures billions of reflections created by a car's radar signals bouncing off roadside objects. Called Radar Road Signature, "it uses radar sensors to always measure objects so you get a kind of fingerprint of the road," Gerhard Steiger, president of the automotive supplier's Chassis Systems Control Division, told me in an interview last week.

How Maps Are Becoming Hyper-Local and Self-Healing for Self-Driving

"You can upload that to the cloud and add it to the navigation map and really localize a car," Steiger explained. "Maps will have to be more localized. Regular navigation maps won't cut it since autonomous vehicles need more precise data."

Here, which was acquired two years ago by three German luxury automakers for $2.7 billion to build mapping software, is also working on localized and what it calls "self-healing" maps. (Here is also working with Mobileye and BMW on the REM platform to constantly update its maps.)

In addition to getting data from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz vehicles, Here also provides mapping software for four out of five cars in North America and Europe with in-dash navigation. So it's uniquely positioned to supply next-generation maps for autonomous driving and is creating what it calls a Reality Index for self-driving cars to better grasp their surroundings.

Rich Data From Premium Cars

As with Mobileye's REM and the Bosch-TomTom Radar Road Signature, Here is collecting data from vehicles using sensors and camera. But in this case, "it's very rich data since from premium cars made by our shareholders," Ralf Herrtwich, head of automotive, told me in an interview this week at the company's HQ in Berlin.

"When we build our HD Live Maps, there's two portions to it," Herrtwich explained. "The original collection of scanned roads. But then roads change—even if it's just a construction zone—and it's necessary as soon as something changes to have that reflected in the map.


"A vehicle that detects something divergent on the road sends us that report," Herrtwich noted. "We may not trust every report, but if three vehicles report the same thing, you know something changed and you adjust the map according to what we learn—and then we have a self-healing map."

Here is also looking beyond cars and collecting data for its Reality Index from drones and IoT devices to provide even more granular location data for autonomous vehicles and future mobility services. "It will be a database that provides information in real time to self-driving cars about everything that's happening in the environment," Herrtwich said.

Then autonomous vehicles may be more aware of what's around them than humans.

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Yahoo Mail aims at emerging markets and casual users, launches versions for mobile web and Android Go

The days for Yahoo Messenger are now numbered, but Yahoo and its parent Oath (which also owns TC) are still counting on growth for other communications services, specifically Yahoo Mail. Today, the company announced two new versions of Yahoo Mail, optimised for mobile web and an app for Android Go, a version of Android specifically tailored for cheaper handsets. The launch comes at a time when Yahoo Mail has stagnated in its growth: the company says that it now has 227.8 million monthly active users with some 26 billion emails sent daily, but that user size is only about two million more than it had a year ago. It’s a small number also relatively speaking: as a comparison, Google’s Gmail reported 1.4 billion users this past April. In other words, one very clear aim of enhancing the mobile web and Android One experience is to try to grow use of Yahoo Mail among new categories of users, specifically among people who are using lower-end devices, either in emerging markets or as more casual mobile users in more mature markets. And given that Yahoo Mail is already available in 46 languages and 70 markets, it’s probably overdue that Yahoo has decided to revamp some features specifically for a large part of those markets. For the mobile web service specifically, Yahoo’s hoping to ease people into using Yahoo Mail more regularly. “We’ve heard loud and clear from users that they’re not always ready to make the big leap to downloading an app that takes up any storage space on their phone,” said Joshua Jacobson, senior director of product management for Yahoo Mail. “People with high-capacity phones may want to save that space for photos or videos, while others with entry-level smartphones may just have limited space from the get-go. Further, some folks share devices or borrow a family member’s to access their email. This is all especially true in developing markets.” Yahoo is not the only company to focus on how to cater more to emerging markets: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google and many others have developed versions of their platforms and apps tailored for users in these countries (sometimes controversially, when their actions are deemed to be too anticompetitive). Part of the reason for this is because emerging market consumers have been proven to be very enthusiastic users of mobile phones: they use handsets as their primary communications device, often forgoing landlines and computers in the process; but not only do they generally have less money to spend on things like mobile data and devices, but often mobile data represents a higher relative cost overall. On top of this, as growth has levelled off in mature markets, emerging economies are the drivers of all new adoption: usage outside of the US and other mature markets will grow by over 50 percent by 2025, according to the GSMA. Creating apps and sites that consume less data is a no-brainer if you want to grow your usage in these markets, which is what Yahoo is now trying to do. Yahoo last year introduced a new version of its Mail app (along with a paid, ad-free option), which it updated earlier this year with faster load times and other features. Today’s new web version and Android Go app are aiming to create more parity with the standard that it set there. Features include “swipe through your inbox”, a Tinder-style gesture to either to mark a mail a ‘read’ or to delete it (if you swipe left); a new option to personalise your inbox with color themes; an enhanced sidebar to create and use folders; autosuggestion on names (a big one that would have felt very onerous to do without, I’d guess); infinite scroll on the inbox (with no need to click on ‘next’). One issue that I’ve noticed a lot with web apps is that they often don’t seem to work as fast as native apps, and this too seems to be something that Yahoo wants to address: built on React and Redux (similar to the native apps), the responsiveness is much faster now. Yahoo says that Android Go, meanwhile, will take up only about 10 megabytes of space to install, and is optimised to reduce RAM usage if your device is below 50MB.

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