Mapping startup hires Apple computer vision expert

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Mapillary, a Malmö, Sweden-based map technology startup, has hired a computer vision expert away from Apple Inc, the company said Wednesday.

Till Quack, who worked at Apple as an engineering manager overseeing augmented reality and self-driving efforts, will become Mapillary’s vice president of product, the company told Reuters. Quack had earlier worked at chipmaker Qualcomm Inc after selling a startup to the San Diego company in 2014.

Mapillary was founded after CEO Jan Erik Solem himself left Apple in 2013 after selling his facial recognition startup, Polar Rose, to the iPhone maker in 2010. Mapillary aims to solve one of the most expensive problems in mapping: keeping maps up to date with so-called “street level data” about street signs, addresses and other information that can be observed from the road.

The way big companies such as Alphabet Inc’s Google and Apple Inc solve the problem is by sending out fleets of vehicles outfitted with cameras and other sensors to gather images of the roads and keep maps updated.

Mapillary’s approach is to take software that can ingest pictures from nearly any kind of camera, such as a smart phone or a GoPro action camera, and use so-called “computer vision” technology to stitch that together into a three-dimensional map. The company provides that capability to mapping firms, such as HERE Technologies, the mapping firm owned by a consortium of German automakers.

Solem said Quack’s job will be in charge of helping the company’s customers keep their maps updated. The startup is already experimenting with using the comparatively low-resolution cameras that are built into many vehicles for features such as lane control to help update high-resolution maps.

“The main product that we build is the platform to convert imagery from anyone into map data we can publish for everyone,” Solem said.

Mapping is expected to be a key component of self-driving car technology. Startups such as Mapbox Civil Maps, DeepMap and Lvl5 working on such technology have raised more than $270 million in venture capital. For its part, Mapillary has raised $24.5 million from investors such as Sequoia Capital and BMW Group’s iVentures.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Shri Navaratnam