Civil Maps started in 2013 with a specific objective: finding a way to avoid head-on collisions between trains caused by challenging weather or human error. “In the United States, the authorities passed the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015, mandating the ability to monitor all trains and know where each one was at any given moment,” says CEO Stefan Safko. “They had already collected large amounts of data but did not know how to transform it into useful information. We took their raw data and developed a method to create high-definition maps that allowed us to localise the trains and enable asset management.”
Fingerprint Base Map™ technology
A meeting with the board of directors of one of the large US automotive manufacturers two years later encouraged the young company to look into applying its technology for localising autonomous vehicles. After raising capital from a number of investors, the Civil Maps team developed a method for creating high-definition 3D maps of city surroundings called Fingerprint Base MapTM.
Mr Safko likens the Fingerprint technology to that used by the mobile app Shazam, which is able to identify a song after listening to it for just a few seconds. “This is possible as the app proactively has ‘listened’ to music and encoded entire pieces as metadata. The snippet of a song can then be matched with the metadata and recognised. Similarly, we take snippets of data derived from the sensors of a self-driving car and match it with the metadata encoded in our 3D maps. This makes it possible to localise vehicles with centimetre level accuracy. The edge-based technology runs on lightweight ARM architecture and requires limited storage and networking resources.”
A HQ for the European market
Originally focusing on the North American market, Civil Maps’ interest in Europe started to grow about a year ago as the company saw European companies catch up with and even overtake their American competitors in the field of autonomous vehicle technology. Several large corporations are using Civil Maps’ technology today to develop and manage their fleets of self-driving vehicles. In order to further develop its collaboration with European clients, the company decided to set up a regional headquarters in Luxembourg.
When you visit, you can see that there is a momentum building in the region.
“Luxembourg is very conveniently located next to France, Germany and a couple of other countries that we are addressing,” explains Mr Safko. “When you visit, you can see that there is a momentum building in the region.”
The company also had other reasons for choosing Luxembourg. “There is an incredible pool of people actively seeking out smart mobility companies who are truly interested in making this happen in Luxembourg. You don’t see that in other regions,” Mr Safko claims. “Luxinnovation and other organisations proactively helped us deal with issues that came up when we started the company: getting a VAT number, meeting recruiters, finding temporary office space and establishing a bank account, all within a few days. These types of problem solving capabilities go very far when you are a start-up and need to move and iterate quickly.”
Recruiting from research
Civil Maps is working closely with Luxembourg stakeholders. For example, the team has been meeting regularly with representatives of the University of Luxembourg’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) who are conducting research on self-driving cars. In the coming months, the company will also submit applications for various R&D grants.
Our aim is to help build an ecosystem of talent that further establishes this region as a leader in self-driving vehicle technology.
Building up the Luxembourg team is a priority. “We are actively recruiting our core employees for this new office, and some of them may actually be PhD students or postdocs from the SnT team,” says Mr Safko. “We hope to have four employees here at the end of the year and probably double that next year. Our aim is to help build an ecosystem of talent that further establishes this region as a leader in self-driving vehicle technology.”
Photo credit: Civil Maps