Alibaba-backed online mapping service AutoNavi is commercializing its mapping service by charging the company’s automobile partners for using its high-definition (HD) map, which is a critical piece in self-driving solutions, local financial news outlet Lanjinger reported.
AutoNavi is charging automakers RMB 100 (USD 15) per car per year for licensing the HD map, which captures the world with centimeter-precision whereas ordinary web map apps represents the world at a meter-level accuracy.
The technology is vital to autonomous vehicles to make steering decisions, and also has applications in augmented reality to enable people more vividly explore streets, storefronts, and other public sites.
AutoNavi’s HD mapping technology is currently being used by level 3 (semi-autonomous) automakers. Back in 2016, AutoNavi would provide its HD maps to self-driving companies for free, though it maintains the current 100 RMB annual rate is a breakeven price. The company also said it plans to reduce this price by at least 2% per year.
Acquired by Alibaba in 2014 for USD 1.5 billion (over RMB 10 billion), AutoNavi operates one of the most popular maps in China. The platform passed 100 million daily users in October 2018.
For comparison, its nearest rival Baidu Maps had 300 million monthly users in 2017, according to Quest Mobile data, though Baidu is yet to reveal daily usage numbers.
Alibaba itself confirmed it was testing autonomous vehicles in April 2018, years after Baidu entered the space. Baidu was the first Chinese internet company to dip its toes in self-driving back in 2014, and in 2017 launched an RMB 10 billion (USD 1.52 billion) fund to support its autonomous vehicle platform Apollo.