“Future of autonomous driving: master the map!” Speech by Dieter Zetsche

In his speech at the South by Southwest Conference on March 11, 2017 Dieter Zetsche explained why highly accurate maps are of crucial importance for the continued development of autonomous driving.

Good morning to all of you.

Welcome to Mercedes-Benz at South by Southwest!

We’re here today to talk about maps. Now, we know that great things can happen when you don’t have a map. I mean, America was discovered because there was no proper map! But generally, I think we all agree: a good map really helps us go places. However, it better be really accurate and up-to-date to be useful …

Anyone younger than 20 probably has no idea what this fold-up-map is. People older than 20 know: This is a very reliable device: it will reliably make your co-driver go crazy. And it only gets worse when you try to re-fold the damn thing! Maps have been around nearly forever. Yet they didn’t change much for ages. Until digitization kicked in. As most of you know: I am in the car business. And there are so many more cool things maps can and will be doing for us beyond taking us from A to B. I would like to look at two exciting aspects today: First: maps as your scout; second: maps as your steward.

Maps as your Scout

Maps as your scout

Let’s start with maps as your scout. What does that mean? A good scout typically is ahead of you to make sure you are ahead of the game. That gets even more important down the road to self-driving cars. Because if cars are going to drive on their own - they better know exactly where they are going! And how they manage to arrive there safely.

Whereas humans use senses like eyes and ears to know where they are heading, cars rely on their sensors. Today’s cars are packed with cameras or radars. But just as in the human brain – the magic really happens when you connect the information from different sources to arrive at smart decisions. In the car industry, we call this “sensor fusion”. Sensor fusion represents a big leap ahead in self-driving technology.

One example: Using this technology today’s Mercedes E-Class doesn’t necessarily need clearly visible road marks to stay on track. On highways, it is able to change lanes automatically upon request. As a result, the current E-Class became the world’s first series-production vehicle to obtain a test license for autonomous driving on public roads in the State of Nevada.

Yet, if we want to get from really helpful driver assistant systems today to fully self-driving cars in the future – high-precision maps as a scout will play a crucial role. Maps as a scout are yet another powerful source of information, helping the car to understand more of what’s going on in its surroundings by matching all available inputs.

And maps will tremendously gain importance: They can “look” beyond the limitations of onboard cameras and radars. They can even “see” around corners. Think about it: A map with really strong, almost real-time data: knows about icy roads and accidents around the next curve; prevents you from getting stuck in the traffic jam ahead; and helps you find that last free parking spot downtown. Maps as a scout have huge potential to enhance safety and convenience on the road today. And they are one important “missing link” to self-driving vehicles tomorrow.

The question is: How do we get there? One answer is a strong cooperation with HD maps-provider HERE – a global leader in the field. Their goal is: Remapping the world in 3D. That’s why HERE is currently measuring more than 30,000 street miles each week at an inch-precision level all over the world – and up to a height of 130 feet. So, even the tallest of Daimler buses will know whether or not they fit into that tunnel or under that bridge ahead.

Our company is supporting this mapping-the-world-effort with prototype cars that collect up to seven terabytes of new data – per hour! Consider what an amount of data like this means for future wireless networks alone, if more cars feed that data back to a cloud-platform in order to achieve almost real-time traffic information. I guess we’ll need 12G instead of “lousy” 5G.

Because for fully self-driving cars, maps not only need to be ultra-accurate, they also need to be ultra-up-to-date. Now, imagine what would happen … If we had more than just a few sources for mapping the world? If every single car collected data on every mile it drove and continuously updated our maps to share the latest information with others? And if we then connected the latest car sensor technology with the latest mapping technology? That’s when it gets really interesting!

Last year alone Daimler sold more than three-million passenger cars, vans, trucks and buses. Considering that the mapping company HERE has many different partners, including BMW and Audi, this means: more than seven million new “scouts” out on the road globally every year. The average American driver alone covers around 12 to 13-thousand miles a year. Commercial drivers do a lot more.

They could all be collecting and sharing a massive amount of almost real-time data on roadwork, weather conditions, traffic, and more through one mapping platform. Sharing plus gaining information from the onboard sensors is where maps in the car can add major benefits as compared to smartphone-based maps. You get the idea: If we want fully self-driving and -- most of all -- safe-driving cars, we will also need super-accurate, reliable and continuously updating high-definition maps.

That’s the basic concept behind maps as your scout. And there is a second powerful dimension to maps that we are planning to fully unleash in the future: maps as your steward.

Maps as a Steward

Maps as your steward

Today, maps do offer great assistance in navigating you. And unlike your average human co-driver, they don’t ever shout at you “Oh no: You just missed the exit again!” That helps for a relaxed commute. But we believe: maps can provide so much more convenience. In the future you can think about the map in your car supporting you like a really cool co-driver and dedicated personal steward – no matter if you drive or if the car does the driving. A good steward knows more about your personality, likes and preferences and will thus be able to provide you with perfectly individual advice and highly convenient services.

In a car, that means: maps as your onboard steward will for instance find the best route for you. And the best route isn’t always the same route. It can vary depending on your current mood, your schedule – and a bunch of other factors: You might want to use the fastest route to your office in the morning according to today’s meetings and appointments. Or you may want to try a new scenic route on a relaxed weekend drive in your area. Or when you arrive in a new city you may want a tailored route that quickly shows you all the hotspots you are personally interested in from the convenience of your car. And you may want to end up for a drink or two at that cool place where the locals hang out. Of course, your car would also pre-book the nearest parking spot and show you how many of your friends are already there. Leaving you to decide if you still want to go or not.

The bottom line is this: Your car will get to know more about you, but not to overwhelm you with information. Instead it will reduce distraction and get you the personalized, right and most relevant information in the right very moment – at a level of convenience that goes far beyond navigating from A to B.

Now, combining individualized map data with fully self-driving cars in the future leaves us with tremendous opportunities. Think about it: If your car knows your favorite bakery, it will get those fresh pastries you love for breakfast – even before you wake up! Or if your car knows your calendar, you’ll never have to think about taking Grandma to the dentist or picking up your laundry – your car is just going to do that for you. These are just two of infinitely more possible tasks cars will be able to take care of with maps as your steward.

Ladies and Gentlemen, maps have long been an enabler for personal mobility. Both as a scout and as a steward they’re becoming a key driver for the next revolution in mobility. A revolution with a huge impact on all of us: Cars that park themselves outside the city will reduce the space needed downtown. This could save more than 5.7 billion square meters in the U.S. alone, experts say. As a result, cities will become cleaner, greener and more livable. Self-driving trucks and vans can do all delivery and logistics at night to reduce traffic and pollution. We’re also going to electrify all of our trucks, vans and buses. So there will be less noise pollution, too.

Studies estimate that intelligent traffic management could then save up to 50 minutes per person. Per day. That means self-driving technologies can help us win back the most precious asset we have: time. I am certain we are on the road to a bright new future in mobility … and maybe even a better world. It’s going to continue being a very exciting ride.To be honest: we don’t even know exactly where this ride full of opportunities is going to take us in the end. High-definition maps for navigating the future aren’t in the market yet …

For now, I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas. Thank you very much!

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