Europe's HERE mapping company is now here with new Boulder office


HERE, a German tech company aiming to provide high-quality maps for self-driving cars, officially opened its new office in Boulder

HERE, a European tech company aiming to provide high-quality maps for self-driving cars, on Wednesday officially opened its new office in Boulder — with plans to grow. 

The office currently has 20 people, and executives say they expect to have a total of 35 people in the office by the end of the year. 

HERE traces its roots back to the mid-1980s when a small team started developing digital maps of California.

Currently it has 8,500 people in 136 locations in 50 countries. The Boulder office is at 4900 Peal East Circle, in a building that has a lot of vacant space.

And the Boulder team will focus on collecting the stream of live data crowd-sourced from sensors and cameras on cars and using the information to update computerized maps that can be pushed back out to the fleet of vehicles capable of accessing HERE’s maps. 

It’s cutting-edge work that offers the Boulder area’s rich pool of geospatial scientists a challenge to chew on, according to Carolyn Johnston, HERE’s principal scientist and site leader for the Boulder office. 

“Boulder has always been a hotbed of geospatial technology, there’s a group of people here who are already trained up in this area and who have been looking for a challenge,” Johnston said. 

In addition to the existing talent, the lifestyle of the Boulder-Denver area is attractive to prospective employees — and it’s easy to get to customers in Asia and Europe via Denver International Airport, said Sanjay Sood, HERE’s Chicago-based vice president for the highly automotive driving division. 

HERE offered a sneak peak to media Wednesday of the work it’s doing around the world, and where the company — and its technology — is headed. 

The company is backed by several investors, including Audi, Bosch, BMW, Continental, Daimler, Intel and Pioneer. 

It already offers online maps for on-board vehicle navigation systems, but is positioning itself for the world of the self-driving car. 

“We’re taking the company from a map publishing house, with quarterly updates, to a real-time mapping company where we collect information about changes in the real world and provide information about those changes in real time,” said Ralf Herrtwich, HERE’s Berlin-based senior vice president for the automotive division. 

About 80 percent of HERE’s business is selling access to maps for vehicle navigation systems. 

The company collects information from its own vehicles equipped with cameras and sensors as well as partner companies whose vehicles also collect and send information to the company via the cell phone internet network. 

The challenge is creating fresh, up-to-date, extremely detailed maps with the latest information — be it a construction zone that popped up over night or a sudden traffic jam due to a crash on the road ahead, Herrtwich said. 

They also include information about lanes, traffic lights, signs, the curve of the road and how steep it is. 

“Through connectivity, the vehicles can talk and with the sensors they have something meaningful to say — we’re trying to make sense of all that,” Herrtwich said. 

“It’s quite a bit of number-crunching.” 

Currently about 500,000 vehicles are connected to HERE’s system and the company has mapped about 600,000 kilometers of highways in North America and Europe, Sood said. 

Basin online maps are usually accurate to about 25 or 30 yards and designed to be understood by a human driver, Sood said. 

“If the map says right in 100 meters and it’s really 110 meters, that’s not a big deal to the person driver — but it’s a huge deal to a machine. Five meters is huge,” he said. 

HERE’s goal is to make the next generation of computer maps accurate to less than 20 centimeters, Sood said. 

And vehicles able to access and use HERE’s new maps are not far-off fantasy. 

“We expect to see vehicles on the road able to access this information by next year,” Herrtwich said.