With its cell phone division now safely and officially within the warm embrace of Microsoft, Nokia (NYSE:NOK) is making efforts to begin expanding its operations to help fill in the hole left by the sale of its handheld unit. With some renewed energy to spare and some extra cash now laying around, Nokia is putting a $100 million bet on autonomous vehicles, joining the likes of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Tesla Motors’ (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk in the drive to remove most human elements of automobile operation.
Nokia said on Monday that the contributions and investments are meant to support the company’s digital-map business, Bloomberg said, adding that the effort will be run by Nokia’s venture-capital arm, Nokia Growth Partners, which manages about $700 million.
“We’re seeing innovation that’s happening across the auto ecosystem through the combination of mobility and the Internet,” Paul Asel, a partner at the Nokia venture-capital arm, told Bloomberg in an interview. “The car is really becoming a platform like when the mobile handset became a smartphone and all the apps and services developed around that.”
Nokia, which was well-established in the smartphone business, got into map-making in 2008, with the lofty $8.1 billion purchase of Navteq Corp. and subsequent 3-D map-technology maker Earthmine Inc. in 2012, Bloomberg said. Although Google Maps is the go-to favorite for consumers, Nokia provides mapping data to companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Yahoo!, but most crucially, it offers the framework on which four out of five automakers build their GPS systems on.
Nokia is yet another large tech giant that’s putting it’s heft behind autonomous cars, which although still in development, have been making much headway as the likes of Nissan, Google, Tesla, and others join the effort. Toyota, also in on the movement, said in October last year that it plans to release systems in about two years that will allow cars to communicate with each other to avoid collisions, Bloomberg said.
The idea is that computer algorithms are more reliable in hazardous situations, and although there is the fear that the systems could fail, it would be statistically far lower than the rate of human error that’s currently responsible for thousands of accidents globally.
Many of the systems used for autonomous driving have already found their way into production cars in one form or another. Adaptive cruise control is perhaps the most prominent example, though things like collision avoidance systems, lane departure warnings, and emergency braking can all trace their roots to systems designed for driver-free operation.