TomTom acquires Autonomos to beef up in self-driving technology

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Navigation and mapping company TomTom — which provides data to companies like Uber and Apple as well as for its own GPS systems — has made an acquisition to add more autonomous driving technology to its platform. It has acquired Autonomos, a Berlin startup that has worked in R&D consultancy for various self-driving projects out of Germany. Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Autonomos was founded in 2012 by a group of computer science and artificial intelligence academics who had worked on driving projects at the Free University of Berlin. That has included building vehicles for the DARPA Grand Challenge competitions.

TomTom said the Autonomos team will work on map-based products for autonomous driving applications, including its HD map, RoadDNA localisation technology, as well as its navigation, traffic and other cloud services.

“We are proud to have been selected by the world leader in map making for bringing autonomous driving together to the next level,” says Tinosch Ganjineh, CEO and co-founder of Autonomos. “TomTom’s technology combined with our intelligent driving know-how are a perfect match to make the dream of self-driving cars become a reality”

The company was largely bootstrapped, with a small investments from an angel, Alfred Möckel from Alubi capital GmbH, and the Investitionsbank Berlins Profit financing program for young companies.

“We have always worked with pioneer customers from different sectors and grew from project to project,” Patrick Vogel, its CFO, told TechCrunch. “Basically we have been bootstrapping until yesterday and focused on testing the feasibility of different approaches while building a talented team of 32 people. We came to the conclusion, that for the next big steps the TomTom technology platform offers the perfect match to follow up on our ideas. We expect that we can help to further improve their products already in development and we will help to develop completely new, additional components for the autonomous driving market.”

He added that it will likely be run as a separate R&D unit in the TomTom Automotive & Licensing business and remain in Berlin. “We will continue to get our technology in the market through cooperating with selected OEMs and tier 1s. We do not intend to get into car manufacturing or our own mobility services,” he said.

Right now is an interesting moment in the car industry, with all automakers building up their expertise in self-driving technology and working on their own models for how to implement this idea. Alongside them, larger tech companies like Google and Apple, as well as outsized transportation startup Uber, are also building their own technology for the space. But in many cases, given the complexity of the task in front of them, they are working with a host of partners as well, and that is where TomTom comes into the picture. It must also build up expertise in this area, or risk becoming dated in what it can provide to its customers.

“This is an important development for TomTom as it will help us to continue to strengthen our capabilities for the future of driving and expand our knowledge and expertise,” says Harold Goddijn, CEO and co-founder of TomTom, in a statement. “With this deal we are further positioning ourselves as one of the leaders in autonomous driving.”

The group’s expertise includes developing a full demonstration-level autonomous driving software stack, 3D sensor technology, and digital image processing. Looking at their past and current projects, their work has pushed some of the more tricky and challenging use cases of where self-driving cars might go. They include building a car that has driven around traffic in Berlin and operated as a taxi, a car that was controlled with your brain, a car controlled by your eye, one that was controlled by your iPhone.

Two of these cases are particularly interesting, considering TomTom’s work with Uber and Apple. But there is also TomTom’s own business development to consider, too. The company has been working on incorporating its GPS technology — the basis of its own mapping devices — to self-driving cars.

Part of this has included charting 200,000 kilometers of roads in the U.S., France and Germany with highly automated driving (HAD) maps. HAD maps are a 3D mapping technology that is used by automated driving vehicles to drive from point A to point B, used often in complement with other sensors to see what is around and in front of the car.

Updated with input from Autonomos.