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Swedish start-up Mapillary has built a sharing platform for imagery, map data

BMW’s i Ventures spin-off has invested in Swedish HD mapping provider Mapillary, which has developed a platform utilizing user-generated street-level imagery to produce map data at scale.

Images can be uploaded by any device, and data from a range of different sensors captured and processed without the need for specially-equipped survey vehicles. Moreover, there is the potential for network effects and benefits from the shared, common cloud-based platform, says BMW i Ventures’ Baris Guzel, writing in a blog post.

The Mapillary platform is said to host the world’s largest collection of street-level images for teaching machines to ‘see’, with over 260 million images in 100 object categories, discerned under different weather conditions and over four million kilometers, from the submitted photos of community members and contributors. These have been shared and used by individuals, companies, cities, governments and NGOs worldwide. The Mapillary Vistas Dataset, meanwhile, which has been released to teach machines to 'see', holds some 25,000 high-resolution images.

Guzel points to current challenges in mapping including the need for much more rapid updating, inconsistency of road furniture and signage between regions or even individual states within a country, and in the stitching-together of images from a variety of sensor sources and data-capture qualities.

“Today’s traditional map companies are operating in silos, by running their own survey vehicles around the world to collect data and updating their maps accordingly, which is another manual and cumbersome process,” he says. “This approach is very costly as these survey vehicles are equipped with expensive sensors and they can only cover a small area as this requires a lot of effort."

Guzel, in the blog post makes the case for one shared platform. “We believe that there is a need for an independent provider of street-level imagery and map data, which could act as a sharing platform among different players as well," he says. "We believe that sharing data is crucial for accurate maps and safer autonomous vehicles, as no single player has the necessary deployment in place to ensure this.”

Mapillary founder and CEO Jan Erik Solem, a professor at Lund University, Sweden, before setting up the firm in late 2013, adds: “The core idea behind Mapillary is to combine people and organizations with very diverse motives and backgrounds into one solution and one collective photo repository, sharing in the open and helping each other… We can happily partner with any mapping or navigation company without being in competition. We’re neutral, open, and can work with anyone as long as it benefits our long-term vision of visually mapping the planet.”

- Farah Alkhalisi