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Another day, another land-grab for the burgeoning self-driving car industry as 3D-mapping startup Civil Maps announces a $6.6 million investment round led by Motus Ventures, with participation from Ford, Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang’s AME Cloud Ventures, Wicklow Capital, and StartX Stanford.

Founded out of California in 2014, Civil Maps uses artificial intelligence (A.I.) and local vehicle-based processing to convert data obtained from a car’s sensors into “meaningful map information” for use in autonomous vehicles. The company had raised almost $3 million before today’s announcement, and it says its latest cash injection — which it’s calling a “seed” investment —  will be used to expedite product development and to deploy the technology across the automotive and technology industries.

We’ve seen a huge upsurge in investment across the autonomous car sector of late. Earlier this week, machine-learning startup FiveAI raised $2.7 million to create the smart autonomous cars of tomorrow using A.I. that it promises will bypass the need to “survey, maintain, and share detailed 3D maps” of the world’s roads, instead building a map of the world in real time as it goes along.

Elsewhere, General Motors (GM) acquired self-driving car startup Cruise Automation for over $1 billion this year, while BMW announced a partnership with Intel and Mobileye to produce fully autonomous cars by 2021, and Toyota poached Google’s head of robotics to lead its own in-house A.I. and set up a research lab to explore autonomous vehicles.

Maps will prove pivotal to the success of self-driving cars, which may explain why Google is arguably at the most advanced stage out of all the players — it owns one of the most extensive mapping platforms out there. It also partly explains why a consortium of car giants bought Here Maps from Nokia for $3 billion last year.

Civil Maps may be a relatively young startup, but it’s one of a number looking to capitalize on the growing demand for technology that will power a future where self-driving cars fill roads and highways around the world. The company says its software aggregates raw 3D data from Lidar and on-board sensors to create machine-readable maps that “require a fraction of the data storage and transmission for existing technologies.” It’s this light data footprint that makes it less costly to transmit over cellular networks, the company said.

“Autonomous vehicles require a totally new kind of map,” said Civil Maps CEO Sravan Puttagunta. “Civil Maps’ scalable map generation process enables fully autonomous vehicles to drive like humans do — identifying on-road and off-road features even when they might be missing, deteriorated or hidden from view and letting a car know what it can expect along its route. We are honored to work with Ford and the rest of our investor team to pave the way for fully autonomous vehicles at continental scale.”


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