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Civil Maps, and why we will not have one in India

Civil Maps

Crowdsourcing has been an important tool for some of the leading names like Google in the mapping field, which has been collecting geospatial data and updating maps to a good extent using it.

Civil Maps, a startup in the space of 3D maps intends to do something similar, but the data will not be location name or annotation or points of interest(PoIs) being updated by an individual. The maps will be updated using LiDAR point cloud which is being sensed by autonomous vehicles. Civil Maps uses AI software to generate 3D map data from sensors in self-driving cars. These detailed 3D maps can be used to further guide the other autonomous vehicle. In other words its a self improving 3D map which would keep on updating itself with more and more usage of autonomous vehicles.

They appear to have solved a key issue with the LiDAR point cloud – data size and optimally used it in a specific data format which makes it light enough to be transmitted without being a load on data pipe. It supposedly has come up with format for data transfer which use less transmission bandwidth. According to Civil Maps its format uses less data, reducing the cost of transmission over cellular networks. That lets the technology provide more real-time road data gathered through crowd-sourcing traffic information from other cars.

Exciting as it is and more for those automotive majors which are looking at autonomous vehicle, Civil Maps can provide a key link between the updated 3D maps and ability to use the LiDAR sensor data to update them.

Recently Ford along with few other companies invested in this startup. The $6.6 million funding was led by Motus Ventures. Wicklow Capital, StartX Stanford, and Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang’s AME Cloud Ventures also participated in funding.

After this multi-million dollar funding there is a million dollar question:

Why don’t we have an Indian startup based in Bangalore or Pune or Hyderabad, making a mark in this exciting age of autonomous vehicle, where maps or 3D Maps have come to occupy a part of centre stage.

Some of the observations which may not be complete answer to the question, but still an attempt:

  1. The geospatial ecosystem in India has few tech-startups which are working on coding for technology innovation. Most of the companies are into data space or reselling of boxes. Inspite of having good pool of coders and developers, there is little excitement which this community sees in geospatial. The geospatial ecosystem has not evolved much beyond the data creation and analysis. But, there are agents of change which are appearing on the horizon. Usages of maps by Ola, Uber etc are driving the community to be more map savvy. Companies are now providing map based solution for last mile connectivity and logistics delivery.
  2. Policy on maps and new tools like LiDAR and optical sensors are still not clear, making them vulnerable to the interpretation of existing policy by local administration. More so, there is multiplicity of agencies/ministries which has to be dealt with if requisite permission is to be sought. Although, geospatial policy experts have written off the draft Geospatial Information and Regulatory Bill, but the ‘Jinn’ is just lying low till somebody opens the bottle and brings it out. New policy from Dept of Science and Technology – the National Geospatial Policy, will co-exist with other policies, leaving it to remain in a complex web of multiple polices.
  3. Dept. of Science and Technology, which has been funding geospatial projects in academia and research institutions has been more into application driven project, which many a times are lacking anything ‘innovative’ or ‘creative’.
  4. The geospatial industry is still considered a government driven industry in India, in other words, private industry has not yet participated or hooked on to the benefits of geospatial technology and applications. Systemically, It is difficult in India for government projects to drive innovation in industry, as they go by conformity to what has been presented and accepted in high income economies.

For those who wish to explore more about Civil Maps, here is the presentation made by Sravan, its CEO at SPAR 2015: http://www.slideshare.net/SravanPuttagunta1/spar-2015

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