The World as Seen by a Self-Driving Car

By Adam Clark Estes on at

For self-driving cars to work safely, we need better maps — much better maps. These maps will not only need to know where the roads are. They'll need to show real-time details as general as traffic patterns and as specific distance to the curb. They'll also need to cover millions of miles worth of road.

This is a tough job. But in the past 15 months, Nokia's 3D-mapping division, HERE, has logged 1.2-million miles in 30 countries on six continents with its fleet of 200 sensor-laden cars. These cars are capable of collecting 700,000 points per second thanks to GPS, cameras, and a LIDAR system with 32 laser beams mounted on the roof that even pick up the reflective paint on the road and on signs. Meanwhile, inertial sensors map the topography of the road.

The result is a real trip. The Wired video above is a LiDAR tour around New Orleans, and it looks like a sci-fi fantasy. In effect, the Matrix-like world that this advanced form of 3D-mapping produces is what self-driving cars will see. We've seen videos of what Google's self-driving cars see, but Nokia's maps look a lot closer to what you and I see. Whether that'll help them conquer nefarious enemies like rain however, remains to be seen. [Wired]