Autonomous tech / Technology / Transportation

Why this Brooklyn startup is continuously making 3D maps of the entire city

If autonomous vehicles are to roam the streets one day, it will be because of the mapping work of companies like Carmera.

Carmera says it's trying to "democratize 3D data." (Courtesy image)

Maps as we used to think of them may be donezo.

One of the companies revolutionizing the way people and machines will use maps in the future is based here in Brooklyn, and they just raised a truckload of money.

Carmera, founded by Ro Gupta and financed by Brooklyn’s Bre Pettis (of MakerBot fame) and Notation Capital, raised $6.4 million last month to continue its work building 3D maps for autonomous vehicles (and other customers!).

Gupta says that right now, highly detailed 3D maps are mostly proprietary to the major companies in the market, and exist mostly on small scales, where companies are testing their self-driving cars. Carmera, on the other hand, is doing it for all of New York City, and making the service available for anyone willing to pay.

“Every autonomous vehicle (AV) has to have real-time sensing and almost every single AV program also uses maps, because that gives them a recollection of the world around them and that allows them to confirm that what they’re seeing in real time matches with what’s on the map,” Gupta explained by phone recently. “The other benefit is to have information about what the vehicle can’t see yet, which might be a few blocks away or around a building, like a temporary road closure. It’s very useful to know about those things as far in advance as possible.”

Carmera has its own car with a mounted 3D camera that goes around the city collecting data, but the bulk of its mapping comes from cameras attached to fleets of delivery vehicles. The startup partnered with storage company MakeSpace to attach cameras to its trucks that traipse around the city.

All that data supplies a seamless view of what it’s like to drive around the city, and because it’s updated so frequently, it picks up changes in the urban roadscape.

“Here at our office in Dumbo on Jay Street today they’re digging up the street and rerouting vehicles and Google or Waze has almost certainly not captured that but chances are one of our delivery partners probably has,” Gupta said. “Basically, our delivery fleets for almost all streets around the city we’re getting monthly updates and sometimes once a day for major thoroughfares.”

The ultimate idea is to have maps refreshing essentially constantly. If it sounds like mountains of data, it is. Gupta said that just collecting one day of LIDAR data can easily rack up a terabyte of information. The team has had to work on some hacks to handle all that.

With the $6 million raise, Carmera is the largest company in Brooklyn working in the autonomous vehicle space. Ro said the decision to remain in Brooklyn, rather than decamp for Manhattan or Silicon Valley, was deliberate. Carmera is currently based at the Digital Future Lab in Dumbo run by NYU Tandon.

“Hardware-wise, space-wise, we need to work with vehicles and garages,” he explained. “The combo of talent, facilities, geography is a really good environment for us. There’s a lot of talent from machine learning and firmware.”

Series: Brooklyn

Knowledge is power!

Subscribe for free today and stay up to date with news and tips you need to grow your career and connect with our vibrant tech community.

Technically Media