As car and tech companies continue to make inroads on vehicles and services to build autonomous driving systems, a startup that is creating high-definition maps to help these vehicles move around has quietly picked up a significant round of funding.
DeepMap — a Palo Alto startup co-founded by James Wu and Mark Wheeler, who previously helped build maps and more at Google, Apple and Baidu — has raised a significant round of growth funding at a valuation of at least $475 million to expand its technology stack and its reach into more markets beyond its current footprint of the U.S. and China.
Founded in 2016, DeepMap has been relatively quiet since raising $25 million in 2017, but news about this round has been trickling out for the last few months. In July, the company filed papers for a $60 million Series B round. In August, it noted that Nvidia had joined the round, which by that point was “oversubscribed” but still not closed.
And today, Generation Investment Management — the VC firm that counts former Vice President Al Gore and others among its co-founders — also confirmed that it is part of that Series B, along with previous investors Andreessen Horowitz, Accel Partners and GSR Ventures, and new investor Robert Bosch Venture Capital. PitchBook notes that the round puts the valuation of DeepMap at $450 million post-money. However, with Generation added to the mix, both the size of the Series B and the valuation might be higher.
We’ve asked and Generation and DeepMap are not disclosing those details, but they have said that the investment is being made because the interests of the startup are in line with that of the VC.
“DeepMap and Generation share the deeply-held belief that autonomous vehicles will lead to environmental and social benefits,” said Wu, who is the CEO of DeepMap (Wheeler is the CTO), in a statement. “We are delighted to work with the talented team at Generation. We consider Generation to be a value-added investor, whose insights and mission-aligned network will be of great advantage as we scale, especially in Europe.”
DeepMap is not exactly in stealth mode, but it also doesn’t disclose much about what it is working on specifically, nor how the funding will be used. (But it is hiring, mostly in engineering roles, in Palo Alto and Beijing.)
Companies like Waymo are expanding their autonomous driving tests, Lyft is buying companies to help ingest more driving data more easily and just this week Baidu announced new car plans with Volvo and Ford, but there are still some crucial pieces that need to be put in place for self-driving to become a wide-scale reality, and one of them is building systems that have an accurate reading of the roads they are driving on.
HD mapping will play a key role in that regard, helping make systems more accurate with real-time localization features that respond to road types and driving conditions. DeepMap says that it provides centimeter-specific accuracy using “real-world data, not models” and the ability to incorporate 3D landmark features and full 3D environments using “true LiDAR intensity and RGB values data” for simulation tools.
While DeepMap does not detail its products on its site, one report describes its offering as including hardware tools, software solutions, field data collection services, and a service that is able to translate the self-driving fleet data that companies are now in the process of collecting “into their own personalized HD maps.” The same report claimed that DeepMap charges about $5,000 per kilometer for mapping services in the U.S.
DeepMap is also not the only company working on addressing this need for better and more accurate mapping: mapping startup Camera is also raising money to build its service; DeepMap’s investor Nvidia is also working on this problem; and lvl5 is another name we’ve also seen mentioned in this context.
The funding, and these partnerships, will likely help DeepMap cement its position on the map, so to speak, as all of these continue to grow.
“DeepMap is perfectly placed to address the imminent needs of autonomous vehicles. These vehicles will require HD maps and localization modules which are real-time, scalable, economically-viable, and machine-readable, something which DeepMap can deliver through its unique approach,” said Lilly Wollman, co-head of Generation’s Growth Equity team, in a statement. “We are very excited to partner with one of the most technically impressive and experienced teams in the industry.”