Democratising 3D data

Carmera CEO Ro Gupta talks to Alex Kreetzer about the company’s goal of achieving a living, breathing mapping system for all.

Next-generation mobility services require end-to-end thinking, with customer-agnostic, independently-sustainable solutions. To do this, you need to build a smart, intelligent network that allows autonomous vehicles to thrive, through mapping and visualisation tools. Carmera, led by founder Ro Gupta, prioritises in mapping and monitoring software for autonomous fleets, which rely on advance software to operate efficiently and effectively in cities. We are on the verge of a new era of transportation but, for autonomy to succeed, it needs to work for everyone involved. Quite literally, Carmera is building the appropriate infrastructure to allow this growth and help these companies achieve their goals. Without a base to work off, autonomous vehicles will not reach the heights expected of them.

Georg Bauer

Gupta explains that Carmera was originally put together to liberate and democratise street-level intelligence. “More narrowly, we’re out to solve a major part of the autonomous vehicle stack: high quality HD maps that are constantly updated and scalable,” he says. This has been an emerging demand in the area of automation, as the automotive industry transitions over to a new chapter in transportation. “Just like with anything else, the future is here. It’s unevenly distributed right now, and will be for a while. So, have we seen the end of traditional automotive? The short answer is no, not yet. But it’s coming.” This warning from Gupta should open the eyes of many OEMs, suppliers and software specialists looking to get involved in this area. You cannot start this journey alone.

Acceptance leads to long-term success

It is important to prepare for this fast-approaching change, creating both a standard and open environment for autonomous vehicle development in real-world conditions. On the other hand, it has been a long time coming, with cities and local governments still trying to adopt new innovations that will change the way we live in urban areas. This could be down to the drastic change in the infrastructure, however this doesn’t have to be the case, thanks to mapping and monitoring technology. In fact, we could even see less physical architecture through the emergence of smart cities, allowing more space for people to enjoy the environment. However, this has become a slow-burner as certain bodies are not approaching it in the correct way, which has stalled progression of future mobility. Gupta believes that there are many reasons for this slow process of accepting future mobility: “Complexity. Bureaucracy,” he states outright. “But I think one of the most notable is the fundamentally short-term vs long-term incentives for politicians and other important decision makers.” Although it is still difficult in the early stages of smart infrastructure, everyone needs to be on the same page before moving forward. If the decision makers do not understand the possibilities birthed from allowing this change, no one else is able to progress. In the long-term, this would leave cities which didn’t move fast enough behind and in the past due to stubborn perceptions of mobility. Carmera is working alongside these decision makers to overcome this confusion, in the hope that every city can welcome this new era of transportation. “We’re working comprehensively and inclusively with cities and governments in deployments, including sharing key mapping data useful for planning and asset monitoring, and ensuring that other concerns and priorities such as Vision Zero and economic development are addressed head-on,” he says.

So, how do we need to change our infrastructure to enable self-driving vehicles to flourish and when will our cities be ready for this shift? Well, it starts with the simple and less interesting parts of mobility, which are needed to support the more attractive facets of automation. “There are the bells and whistles like vehicle-to-infrastructure communications and 5G, but honestly it’s the boring things that are the most important,” Gupta adds. “Think constantly clear lane markings and signage.” Opinions are divided in this area, however it is clear that dedicated lanes and geofencing will create an area for autonomous vehicles to develop and expand. There is also a perception of LiDAR being too expensive at the moment, staggering the development and rollout of autonomous vehicles. Whilst Gupta may agree with the high costs, he believes that there are more serious problems to address first. “Everyone believes the expense will come down or that cameras will get good enough. Maybe both of those things will happen. One of the bigger limiting factors, however, is the range and production volumes of LiDAR at the moment,” he explains. It is difficult to identify what the best approach to this is, other than further development of the sensors and higher production rates, but all this is pointless if the innovation isn’t accepted and supported. 

Paving the way 

Is it difficult to predict when autonomous vehicles will arrive on our roads and there is an uncertainty about what will happen to existing vehicles. In this case, we could experience a smooth transition where we will see dedicated lanes and roads for autonomous cars, allowing a seamless expansion of the innovation without any major disruptions to the city. This would be the most appropriate decision, especially when it comes to the public sector and government transportation networks. “In general, we will see a smooth transition aided by things like dedicated lanes,” Gupta adds. “That said, you’ll see a faster, top-down transition in new or closed communities, and certain countries with more authoritarian governments.” By denoting a system where governments and cities can dictate what needs to be done to allow the rollout of autonomous technology, OEMs and software specialists will have to follow the correct guidelines in order to stick to regulations and allow a smooth emergence of autonomous vehicles. To me, this sounds like the most direct solution to the initial problems we are facing today.

This also applies to the physical infrastructure, which many believe will be stripped back. However, Gupta doesn’t entirely agree with this, taking an ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach: “Oftentimes, old, analog solutions end up enduring because they’re still just plain easier. Astronauts still use pencils in space.” From this perspective, it is interesting to see where sides will meet in order not to get too carried away in the early stages. It is important that, in the long-run, we start to reclaim parts of cities but we should not overcomplicate everything with an influx of smart infrastructure if it will become a disruptor - it’s all about a smooth transition. More importantly, cities should focus on how the technology will reduce congestion, pollution and energy use. Gupta says that these major issues all point to future mobility as the right solution. “Those challenges strengthen the case for step-change thinking in urban transportation, especially when you’re talking about better models to serve ‘transit deserts’, and more modalities to serve demand peaks even in areas that are traditionally well-served.” Over the next few years, Carmera will continue its development to achieve an efficient smart ecosystem that will allow a garden for autonomous vehicles to blossom. “It goes back to our mission: to liberate and democratise street-level intelligence and to solve the mapping piece of the autonomous vehicle stack at global scale,” Gupta affirms. 

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