Information collected by delivery drivers will be combined with Ordnance Survey’s existing maps to create a detailed picture of British roads

The UK’s national mapping agency will create detailed maps of lamp posts, manholes, traffic lights and other objects on British roads as part of an ambitious plan to create the first national data set of road infrastructure.

The maps, which could eventually be used by self-driving cars, will be compiled by Ordnance Survey and Intel-owned computer vision company Mobileye. The two have already been testing the technology in London and Southampton over the past year.

Ordnance Survey will ask utilities companies, delivery groups and other businesses with fleets of cars and trucks to install Mobileye’s cameras and gather data while driving.

This data will be combined with Ordnance Survey’s existing maps to create a detailed picture of British roads, which could later be sold to tech companies that want to develop self-driving cars, delivery networks and other services, according to the agency’s interim chief executive Neil Ackroyd.

“Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple — all the major platform providers already license our data,” he said. “Will there be interest from them for future high-definition maps for their autonomous vehicle operations? . . . I think the answer is probably yes.”

Mobileye does not capture images or videos, but gathers signals that describe objects seen by its cameras
Mobileye does not capture images or videos, but gathers signals that describe objects seen by its cameras

Self-driving cars rely on detailed three-dimensional maps to navigate the world without human eyes, but creating these maps has proven a major obstacle because of the cost and complexity of analysing so much data at a high level of accuracy.

Mobileye, which was bought by Intel two years ago for $15.3bn, does not capture images or videos, but gathers signals that describe objects seen by its cameras. The signals create relatively small data sets of about 200 megabytes a year per car — the equivalent of about 50 songs, according to Tal Babaioff, vice-president of mapping and localisation at Mobileye.

“Every new car has a front-facing camera and you can think of it as an intelligent agent,” said Amnon Shashua, president and chief executive of Mobileye. “You must have an eye and a brain in order to build that [map]. It’s not just sending GPS locations — it’s understanding what you see when you are driving.”

Companies with big mapping businesses, such as Alphabet and Apple, have so far been seen to have an advantage in developing autonomous vehicles — but the creation of large national data sets could enable other businesses to compete.

Mobileye has mapped Japanese highways in a similar project for Nissan, Mr Shashua said.

The Geospatial Commission, an expert committee set up by the UK government, has estimated that geospatial data could be worth up to £11bn to the UK economy every year.

Ordnance Survey and Intel will share any revenues generated from the new data set, Mr Shashua said. Insights will initially be sold to utilities companies to enable “predictive maintenance”. For example, infrastructure problems such as potholes could be prevented by identifying cracks in the road, Mr Ackroyd said.

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