Feature – #InsideHERE and Mapping the World in HD with HERE Maps

You may have noticed on my social media streams recently that I had the privelege to visit Berkeley, CA and the HERE headquarters. It was a short visit where myself and about a dozen other tech journalists and map enthusiasts were provided with an up close glimpse at what HERE is doing and how they are continuing to map the World in HD.

HERE maps

Hosted by Pino Bonetti (@Haikus), Editor of HERE 360 blog and his team, we were provided with lunch upon arrival (luckily we all got to the event pretty much on time) and then whisked off in a HERE navigation equipped vehicle for a first hand demo of HERE Auto and mobile navigation and the in car experience (video below). We drove around Berkeley and navigated to the HERE facilities where vehicles are outfitted with navigation hardware (think HD imaging, GP and LiDAR). The HERE hardware engineers and technologists showed us around the relatively small shop, described the imaging hardware that sits on top of some 200 vehicles around the World, and responded to questions about the hardware specs and how the technology is mounted and used on top of the vehicles to capture and build the seamless, Global HD map. Recall it was back in Nov, 2012 when HERE (think Nokia) acquired California based Earthmine, the reason now seems clear – earthmine offers a complete solution for collecting, processing, managing, and hosting 3D street level imagery! What this means is that they provide the capability to capture millions o data points per day, loads of probe data, and enable automated feature extraction and constrution of the digital road geometry. I found it interesting that the earthmine name was still very visibly evident all around the facility, from marking on the wall to a huge label inside the facility on the wall. The earthmine staffers who came in the deal are clearly proud of their heritage, and deservedly so.

After our guided tour of the facilities and walk around the HERE mapping vehicles, we spent some time back in the urban core of Berkeley at the HERE office to hear from other HERE managers about the enabling technology. To many, driving the roads with a vehicle mounted camera is all they see or think of when it comes to maps being used in their navigation apps, however, there’s much more going on behind the scenes. At the heart of the map is the vehicle and the sophisticated hardware positioned on top – in this case a cyborg-like “arm” outfitted with multiple sensors, hydraulics, and cables, all positioned on a Thule rack for relatively simple removal when needed. According to our host there’s only been one known accident with a camera and we were surprised that there have been no reports of theft, vandalism or the like – good to hear because these cameras are likely not cheap! The sensors mounted on the vehicle are operating while the vehicle drives the streets, all the while continuously gathering positional data and other GPS correctional data, HD imagery and a continuous LiDAR point cloud. I was interested to here that the team boasts that they are the largest collector of street-level LiDAR data in the World! On that note, the surprisingly small LiDAR “puck” sized sensor on top of the hardware arm is provide by LiDAR imaging company Velodyne (See http://velodynelidar.com/)

HERE mapping vehicle

HERE mapping vehicle

After our drive along and facility tour we then heard about some of the post processing of data and secret sauce that is used in order to automate the map making process. Its interesting and exciting to know that the HERE navigation app will be evolving to the point where users of the service in vehicle will not only be enjoying simple to use, highly accurate street routing and voice enabled navigation but coming soon when you navigate to a destination using HERE you will then be presented with Street-Vide like imagery of your destination surroundings displayed on your in-vehicle display system should you have one – that’s pretty darned cool!

Finally, one of the WOW factor moments of our day was a fun, first look at a 3D physical city scaled model of San Francisco. A projector was positioned carefully and precisely above the model and data emulating a drive route was superimposed on top to provide a realistic city drive scenario of a vehicle following a route and being diverted to a more suitable location as a result of traffic and traffic related incidents that are updating the suggested trip in real time – it really was impressive and a fine example of the future of mobile mapping and urban mobility! The creation of this impressive model is thanks to talent born out of the gaming industry and those of you who will be at events where HERE will be in attendance may be lucky enough to get a glimpse of the model in action as it is scheduled to hit the road very soon.

HERE maps 3D Urban scenario

HERE maps 3D Urban scenario – Click here to view video

I’ve used HERE maps in the vehicle before but this event served as a great reminder to me that the service really is awesome. Since I travel a fair bit I often find myself using my mobile without my data enabled and only over WiFi in order to not incur heavy data roaming charges. This is where HERE maps in offline mode shines. HERE functions amazingly well in offline mode simply by downloading the base maps that are required (I have a bid MicroSD card in my Android mobile so space and file size is no issue). I’m now navigating around my city while offline and most recently I was visiting New York and was walking around the city, navigating offline all while my device was set in airplane mode to avoid roaming fees. Yes indeed, I’m a fan and once you try HERE (iOS, Android, or Windows OS) I’m sure you will be too!

HERE maps mobile app on android, offline mode

HERE maps mobile app on android, offline mode

Author – LBSzone / GISuser.com Editor Glenn Letham @gletham was an invited guest to the HERE facilities