While it’s true that social media connects pretty much everyone these days, on a different level, roads are what physically connect us – to the grocery store, to school and work, and all sorts of other places. There are over four million miles of roads in the US alone, and as readily available autonomous vehicles keep getting closer to reality,  they’re going to need a way to safely navigate those roads. These vehicles need a constant data feed about their environment, in the form of 3D maps. Brooklyn-based 3D mapping startup Carmera just launched this week, after spending the last two years taking on the enormous task of mapping the streets of New York City with its LidAR mapping vehicles. Its goal is to gather real-time 3D mapping data that will be used by autonomous vehicle makers, but is accessible to anyone, from city planners and officials to architects and real estate developers.

Carmera team, L-R:  Max, Patrick, Justin, Ioannis, Quynh, Dave, Chase, Nadia, Richard, Ethan, Phil, Ro, Kenn

Carmera just announced a $6.4 million round of Series A funding from venture capital firm Matrix Partners, Haystack investor Semil Shah, Notation Capital, and Bre Pettis, who has a little something in common with Carmera’s co-founder Justin Day – they both used to work for MakerBot. Day and Carmera co-founder and CEO Ro Gupta have been developing software that uses data processing and machine vision to create 3D streetscapes. Carmera operates a visual network of road sensors that gather the 3D data, change detection, and analytics data for city streets.

CARMERA’s daily to monthly street-level coverage of NYC

Gupta said, “We’ve been crawling the streets of New York with our sensors for over a year. So now we have really good data based on actual observations on pedestrians, versus the inferred data that you might get from a subway turnstile or cell-phone data. We have actual observations on pedestrian foot traffic across all months of the year and across all different hours of the day.”

The 3D data that Carmera’s sensors gather are definitely helpful for autonomous vehicle mapping, but what the company didn’t realize is that it would be useful for other built environment uses. The startup’s first available product, Carmera Site Intelligence, can be used to analyze a build site, and Carmera will be selling it to private sector companies. But Gupta explains that Carmera is also working with various city agencies to determine how the data could be useful in the future. The product is available for $499 per export, and the 3D maps it utilizes are always up-to-date, thanks to Carmera’s fleet of vehicles with attached visual monitoring sensors.

CARMERA’s first panoramic LiDAR mapping vehicle, “CARMERA Force One”

But similar to the OpenStreetMap foundation, Carmera recruits what it calls fleet partners: companies which already have multiple vehicles on the street every day, like package delivery trucks or service vans. In return for allowing Carmera to attach its sensors, the startup offers the companies monitoring data about their vehicles’ efficiency and safety on the streets. Currently, storage company MakeSpace is Carmera’s only publicly known fleet beta user.

Next-generation road mapping data is also helpful for firms that utilize 3D construction software.

“In a Revit or BIM environment, they could actually develop the job itself almost like the old style way of using trace paper to sketch on top of a photo of the site. In our case the ‘photo’ would be the dimensions of the site itself,” said Gupta.

Carmera’s only public beta partner is Philadelphia firm Francis Cauffman Architects, which is exporting the 3D data to get a look at the build environment during project design, so it can reduce the need for ongoing site visits with clients. But going back to its original purpose of autonomous vehicle mapping data, Carmera says that the existing data from other companies is either not good enough, doesn’t exist, or gets locked away in closed platforms.

In a Medium post, Carmera wrote, “We built CARMERA to fix this. We prefer a world in which the enabling technology for autonomy benefits many, and not years or decades into the future.”

“We believe we are in a once-in-a-generation convergence of enabling technology to make this concept even thinkable. All those buzzwords you hear these days: IoT, Big Data, Computer Vision, Neural Networks…they’re real. And they’re only getting better, faster and cheaper everyday in allowing us to treat the real world like the digital world.”

Carmera Autonomous Map, the startup’s flagship offering, can offer autonomous vehicles navigation-critical data and helpful, real-time 3D maps. Additionally, its 2D and 3D data processing pipelines use sophisticated GPU, data management, and machine learning infrastructure that was either nonexistent or too inconvenient at scale until now, and the mobile sensors, 3D printing, and vehicle telematics technology it employs through its fleet partners would have been size and cost prohibitive, even just a few years ago.

The startup has already started to collect data in other major cities, thanks to its extensive project of mapping the constantly-changing streets in NYC, where tall buildings get in the way and make it hard to get accurate images. Hopefully, once autonomous vehicles are a regular occurrence in US cities, Carmera will have all of them mapped out for us.

Discuss in the Carmera forum at 3DPB.com.

[Sources: Medium, Fastco Design, Technical.ly Brooklyn / Images: Carmera]

 

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