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Video: Mapper.ai

Self-driving cars currently lack the common sense needed to navigate using a traditional human map. Since they can't interpret context, they need to rely on a map signal that doesn't cut out in tunnels, waver in precision or fall out of date.

The big picture: A new class of machine maps have thus become an essential element of safe and predictable vehicle autonomy. But what’s obvious to human drivers can be incredibly difficult to replicate in code, as can collecting the necessary data.

Maps for humans, like those displayed on a smartphone, rely on GPS and simple receivers that are accurate to a few meters. But they can afford to be a little imprecise — even though the map doesn't know the difference between a sidewalk and a street, it trusts that you do.

To compensate for their inability to operate safely and reliably from context alone, AVs need more of the scenes they encounter to be pre-mapped. No amount of sensor data can substitute: Maps tell an AV there’s a traffic light coming, for instance, even when a large truck blocks the view. Up-to-date maps also let AVs reroute to avoid tough situations like unprotected left turns or intersections under construction.

These machine maps must meet several key demands:

  • Incredible precision, so the car can compensate for its lack of understanding context and know where it is within 10 cm.
  • Granular instructions, like which lane the car is in, the traffic rules that apply to that lane, and even overhead clearances and road elevation.
  • Constant connection, which continues to provide information even when GPS signals are weak or missing.

The catch: Collecting accurate 3D data of cities and keeping the information on them up-to-date have both historically been incredibly expensive and time-consuming. Even a thorough one-time map is almost useless for autonomy because cities are constantly evolving.

What to watch: Since autonomy deploys in small pockets around the globe, shrinking the cost and size of sensors (some combination of cameras, lidar and motion-capture data) to create and update these maps is crucial to meeting market needs. The challenge is making the hardware footprint lighter and scalable, while also delivering sufficient accuracy.

Neehar Garg is head of product at Mapper.ai.

Go deeper: Why machines need maps of their own

Go deeper

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
4 hours ago - Health

FDA panel endorses shot of J&J booster for adults

Photo: Wolfgang Kumm/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Members of the Food and Drug Administration's vaccine expert panel on Friday unanimously endorsed a booster shot for adult recipients of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine at least two months after the initial dose.

Why it matters: The advisory committee raised concerns about a dearth of data to support their decision but ultimately decided to support an additional shot for those over 18.

Capitol Police officer indicted for obstructing Jan. 6 investigation

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6. Photo: Brent Stirton/Getty Images

A U.S. Capitol Police officer has been indicted on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly helping hide evidence of a participant's involvement in the Jan. 6 riot.

Driving the news: Officer Michael A. Riley, 50, is accused of telling the unidentified participant, referred to as "Person 1," in the Jan. 6 riot to delete posts from Facebook, which showed them in the Capitol during the attack.

7 hours ago - World

British MP dies after being stabbed while meeting constituents

Police outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, England, on Oct. 15. Photo: John Keeble/Getty Images

David Amess, a Conservative Party lawmaker in the U.K., was fatally stabbed Friday while meeting with local constituents in a church in eastern England, according to AP.

The big picture: Police said a man, 25, was arrested for the stabbing in Leigh-on-Sea and is being held on suspicion of murder. A knife was also recovered at the scene, authorities said.