BMW’s dilemma in China: What good is a self-driving luxury car that has little sense of where it is?
Cars, all self-driving cars regardless of make or price, currently have insufficient memory to store detailed maps, hence, the need for automakers to partner with providers to help autonomous vehicles download detailed maps on the go.
In fact, not just any maps, but high-resolution maps for ultra-precise navigation. In order to avoid fender benders or worse on Beijing and Shainghai?s crowded byways, BMW needed to partner with a dependable provider with a superior map-delivery system.
Vision Zero needs maps
Vision Zero, originally a Swedish initiative that simply states “No accident is acceptable,” has now gone Euro-wide as an “accident-free mobility” project. BMW one-upped Vision Zero with its own “electronic co-pilot” system’s ability to “relieve the driver of monotonous or repetitive driving tasks, but also take over full control of the vehicle if desired.”
Such features need highly reliable and speedily downloadable maps. Baidu Map has the necessary map delivery technology, but it depends on NavInfo, which is partially owned by Tencent, China’s largest and most used Internet service portal.
According to a filing on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, Tencent acquired 11 percent stake in A-share listed NavInfo for US$187M [RMB1.17B]. A recent article in Seeking Alpha saw “risk to Baidu, since Baidu Map relies on NavInfo for content. If Tencent were to acquire the remaining stake in NavInfo, then Baidu’s LBS and O2O market share gain would be greatly hindered.”
Alternatively, BMW could partner with Alibaba, given that it acquired AutoNavi earlier this year, but by “picking Baidu over Alibaba [Alibaba (NYSE:BABA), given that it acquired AutoNavi earlier this year],” says Seeking Alpha, “BMW acknowledges that 1) Baidu Map has a better degree of accuracy , and 2) Baidu Map has superior features and POIs (points of interest) that are unrivaled by any other map service providers.”
Baidu Map is superior to that of AutoNavi in that it runs on Navigation Data Standard that allows for better upload of data and map enhancement. This standard is also adopted by BMW, so there is a natural synergy between the two companies.
“Unless Baidu can consolidate the map content by acquiring NavInfo, the prospect of Tencent making the first move will be the biggest risk to Baidu’s self-driving car initiative.”
BMW has a proven track record of developing the self-driving car with its driverless M325i at the [Consumer Electronics Show 2014] this year. The key component behind BMW’s self-driving car is the LIDAR system that acts as a 360-degree radar, ultrasonic sensor and cameras that track the vehicle’s surroundings.
When coupled with electronic braking, throttle and steering control, the vehicle can perform lane changes, turns and even drifts without the driver intervention.
However, nothing can leave the driveway without dependable, accurate maps.