DETROIT -- History's most intrepid explorers were often at the mercy of their maps. The self-driving cars of the future won't be any different.
Autonomous vehicles will sport sophisticated sensors and radar systems to read and react to their surroundings, but their robotic drivers still will require vivid and current roadmaps to put the various inputs into context. And creating those maps will require intense collaboration among auto industry players, map makers, technology companies and government, along with a heavy dose of crowdsourcing, industry experts say.
Jim Keller, chief engineer for Honda R&D Americas Inc., sees a future in which cars and their various sensors will collect and share roadway data, updating maps with real-time information that would be used by all automakers "as a community" -- akin to the Waze mobile navigation app, through which drivers alert one another to upcoming road closures, speed traps and traffic.
"Mapping is going to be critical in the future," Keller said during an interview at the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress here. "It's almost a symbiotic relationship between the auto companies and what we need and what we're asking from the maps.
"Symbiotic means that we're also going to be feeding the map makers with updated data and then using that same information to help us," Keller added. "It's really a paradigm shift happening as we move forward related to mapping."
Just as critical as precise mapping will be the vehicle's ability to recognize when it's in uncharted territory.
A self-driving car should be able to understand where its map reach ends, said Derek Caveney, manager of integrated vehicle systems for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc.