Here and Naver Labs ink robotics deal to map indoor spaces

Your trip through the airport or train station may soon become a little more crowded — not with people, but with robots, busily scanning and plotting the space so that one day, even more of their cousins can zip around with your luggage and Shake Shack orders.

Here, the mapping company majority-owned by Audi, BMW and Daimler, has entered a robotics partnership with Naver Labs, part of Naver — the company that created and spun out the messaging app Line, to expand autonomous indoor mapping coverage: Naver Labs will be using its robots, its image-recognition and its indoor mapping tech to help build 3D indoor maps for the Here platform, specifically of high-traffic spots like airports and train stations.

Here tells me that the first indoor maps that they will work on together are of airports in Korea, where Naver is headquartered, before expanding to other markets and venues.

The collaboration will start off with Here using Naver Labs’ M1, a 3D indoor mapping robot that uses laser scanners and cameras, to capture information. Around the airport, another Naver robot — aptly called “Around” — will circulate to keep information updated. These maps in turn will be sold on to companies that are building apps for autonomous services and consumers to use when in the venues.

While a lot of 3D mapping services has been building detailed databases of outdoor spaces — not just for mapping apps but anything that might need location-based information, such as an immersive game — the focus for companies like Google, Apple, and Here has expanded indoors, too — for those games, for navigation apps, but also to fill the need of all autonomous, moving devices to have accurate information about the spaces in which they operate: think beyond mobile apps to self-driving luggage and caddies or other logistical and location-based features.

In January, Here announced the acquisition of Micello — which had built up both a database of and platform for building indoor maps — also to further this effort.

Here and Naver are not disclosing the financial terms of the deal “yet”, a spokesperson said. So it’s unclear if Naver will invest in Here, or vice-versa, as part of the deal.

Here already has other tech companies strategically investing in it alongside those big three carmakers: last year, Intel revealed it was putting an undisclosed amount into the company to take a 15 percent stake, and other shareholders include Pioneer, Continental and Bosch. But an attempt by Navinfo, Tencent and GIC to take a 10 percent stake was quashed by the US government over security concerns.

Rivals have criticised Here for being built on a lot of legacy IP — it got its start years ago as Navteq — that is in need of better updating. While its automaker owners clearly have a strong route for doing that outdoors — in addition to satellite imagery, there are their vehicles themselves, which can be used to ingest as well as use location data — this is a sign of how Here plans to fill the gap indoors.

“Our collaboration with Naver Labs supports Here Technologies’ strategy to provide world-class mapping and location services both indoors and outdoors,” said Edzard Overbeek, CEO of Here, in a statement. “We’re excited to leverage advanced robotics technology in the development of indoor maps, and look forward to exploring further collaboration opportunities with Naver in the future.”

For Naver, it will mean an expansion of its business outside of its region, diversification that its tried with mixed success up to now.

“Together with Here Technologies, Naver Labs looks forward to bringing the capabilities of our scalable and semantic indoor mapping technology (SSIM) to the global market,” said Chang Song, CEO of Naver Labs.