Automotive > Autonomous Vehicles Blog

Managing Map Change During COVID

by Roger Lanctot | Feb 24, 2021

Carmera is a tiny location technology company having a giant impact. That impact has been amplified by the onset and persistence of COVID-19.

Carmera’s location technology allows for timely updating of lane-level map details essential for basic navigation and transportation logistics and which are rapidly evolving in a post-pandemic world.  Carmera has received a warm reception from auto makers keen on refining their own built-in navigation and semi-automated driving capabilities, but Carmera is caught in the auto industry’s startup dilemma: an idea too important to ignore from a company too small to partner up.

This is the classic conundrum that slows innovation in the automotive industry, but there are solutions.  The obvious and most frequently used solution is to partner with a larger company.  (Sometimes car makers simply acquire smaller companies like Carmera – but that’s rare.  Car makers would rather see development costs shared across the industry.)

In Carmera’s case, that partnering proposition has boiled down to TomTom and HERE essentially being told by car makers to partner with Carmera to take advantage of its technology.  This solution has its own challenges, though, as Carmera’s solution essentially exposes the weaknesses of both TomTom and HERE.

Carmera leverages fleet-derived data to update lane-level details in a fashion that delivers highly accurate, live navigation maps which are more timely than those currently produced by Googlemaps, HERE, Waze, or TomTom.  It’s no mean feat and it establishes a new de facto standard that comes closer than the other four providers to so-called “ground truth.”

During COVID-19 the starkness of the contrast has been enhanced and much of that was revealed in work that Carmera completed with transit agencies such as New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  According to Carmera:

  • COVID has caused changes to the urban streetscape that are widespread, impact the safety and efficiency of mobility services such as people and parcel delivery, and are expected to endure past COVID, yet those changes are almost non-existent in any major mapping platform or road database
  • Carmera observed this first hand beginning last year when the company was asked to participate in a program with the MTA in New York City to provide real-time construction data down to lane level to better understand the impact on city curb space just before COVID lockdowns hit.
  • After the initial wave of lockdowns last summer, Carmera prepared to show results, starting in Midtown Manhattan, but found that the fleet-sourced camera monitoring and machine vision technology were starting to pick up new types of closure events due to the city having recently approved restaurant dining in parking lanes across the boroughs. Since these events also impacted navigation, especially for pickup and dropoff use cases, Carmera decided to incorporate them fully into their classification and localization stack and found: 
  • Existing map and road databases such as Google, HERE and TomTom were missing over 70% of closure events in driving lanes, and 100% of parking lane closures. Those parking lane impacts now make up 65% of total closures due to the emergence of COVID-based restaurant dining.
  • Carmera then performed an analysis of San Francisco in January 2021 and saw similar results — 60% of closure events on roads were comprised of restaurant dining impacts that currently aren't being captured accurately, including in city records.

Carmera says the insights described were possible due to partnerships with commercial fleets that have their own safety and efficiency needs for which they leverage Carmera video monitoring and vehicle telematics technology, and those fleets opt in proactively to help collect this data vs. using passive data collection from privately owned vehicles. 

This commercial fleet-sourcing model using roof-mounted sensors allows for greater privacy and data controls, lower occlusion issues, and raw video cloud processing that provides richer insights to be derived (e.g. precise lane/curb-level impact) and accuracy verification vs. limitations associated with interior-camera metadata-based information such as the Mobileye REM (road experience management) database.

Carmera says it will be making this real-time closure data as well as other elements of its Change-as-a-Service offering, such as road inventory change (signs, signals, markings) and updated map vectors, available via API for pre-production testing across the Bay Area this spring as the company prepares the ramp to nationwide U.S. coverage in the early 2020s.

The onset of COVID and the resulting disruptions to cityscapes, travel lanes, on-street parking, and expanding accomodations for micromobility services and pedestrians has increased the demand for real-time lane-level insights. The proliferation of hybrid navigation solutions from TomTom and HERE does open the door to partnership opportunities.

There is no question that, in the end, drivers will not accept maps that do not accurately reflect the surrounding environment. The current navigation environment leaves the door open to consumers adopting the least worst solution. Carmera is showing the way to delivering state-of-the-art navigation guidance representing best-in-class performance.

Carmera's capabilities extend beyond lane-level details to traffic signals, and stop, yield, parking, and speed limit signs among hundreds of other potential data points. In time, Carmera will become the key to delivering the best navigation routing and the most robust people and parcel delivery logistics support - a big job for a soon-to-be not-so-tiny company.

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