Mapping company Here buys ATS to boost its over-the-air tech

Here, the mapping company that powers location services in 100 million cars, is today announcing an acquisition to vastly improve how it distributes and updates its data. The company is buying Advanced Telematic Systems (ATS), a Berlin-based developer of secure over-the-air (OTA) technology, the basis for how wireless devices — including not just cars but smartphones and other hardware — get their systems updated securely — and also, these days, help feed back information to improve how those systems operate.

Here has “only had a limited capability in [OTA technology] until now,” a spokesperson tells TechCrunch. “The ATS acquisition will make us a major player in this area.”

Financial terms of the deal — which is expected to complete in the first quarter of 2018 — are not being disclosed.

Founded in 2014 by Armin Schmidt, Dirk Pöschl and Arthur Taylor, ATS had earlier raised over $12 million, Here tells me, from consortium of Japanese, US and Taiwanese VCs. Pitchbook notes they include iD Ventures America (formerly known as Acer Technology Ventures), Japan’s IT-Farm Corporation, and the Taiwanese ODM maker Wistron, formerly the manufacturing arm of Acer before getting spun out.

“This is an exciting opportunity for ATS as we will be able to combine HERE’s deep customer relationships with OEMs and our global client and partner network to deliver new commercial solutions and enhance the existing functionality of HERE products and services,” said Schmidt, ATS’s CEO. “We now look forward to joining a business with an inspirational vision to shape the autonomous world.”

(This is Schmidt’s and Taylor’s second exit; they had previously co-founded Aupeo, a music streaming service that was acquired by Panasonic.)

The significance of this deal is that it is about Here getting with the times and continuing to modernise itself.

Once part of Nokia but spun out in a €2.5 billion deal, Here is now owned by a consortium that includes the carmakers Audi, BMW and Daimler and Intel (an attempted stake purchase by GIC, Tencent and NavInfo was blocked by CFIUS in the U.S.). Today, Here claims that its 100 million installs makes it the world’s largest provider of mapping data to the automotive industry.

Its legacy is an old one: Here originally was formed in part through Nokia’s acquisition of Navteq in 2007, which itself had been around since 1985. That age in part underscores the need for the company to invest in, and acquire, more modern technology.

In the case of OTA, ATS’s solution is built around open source OTA technology. Notably, in June it integrated with Uptane, a security framework backed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security designed specifically for software that runs on autonomous and connected cars — the idea being that vehicles could be especially deadly if they are maliciously hacked, and the aim here is to try to prevent that from happening.

Another situation to try to prevent is the migration of customers to competitors. Companies like Mapbox, Google and more are also building mapping systems that they would like to power the car of the future (and present, if you are so fortunate to have a fancy, new car). This is another reason behind Here wanting ATS and its tech.

OTA technology has been around for years as a way for mobile carriers to update settings on phones that are on their network, but it’s taken a more proactive turn in more recent times.

Not only are the systems in cars far more complex — covering not just HD maps but real-time pictures of road environments, entertainment services and information, navigation and more — but software engineers are now using the network of devices not so much as dumb endpoints, but as new data gathering tools to continue to feed back information to the central system to improve how it works overall.

This is especially important in the world of mapping, where road conditions and sometimes the roads themselves, are changing constantly, meaning satellite imaging — the basis for a lot of legacy and modern maps — cannot do the full job.

“Data and software delivery is a defining factor for future success within the automotive industry as vehicles are becoming more connected and autonomous,” said Ralf Herrtwich, SVP Automotive of HERE, in a statement. “The acquisition of ATS is a hugely important strategic investment for us to complement our portfolio as a premium automotive cloud provider. I’m excited to welcome Armin and his team into the HERE family.”

Updated with more information about the ownership of Here, and its underlying tech.