3D road mapping underpins Japan's tech-heavy Olympics push

A conglomerate of automakers, mapmakers and suppliers has come together to get Japan's roads mapped ahead of Tokyo's Summer Olympics.

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2020's getting close. Let's hope those mapping cars aren't on the slow side.

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Tokyo's getting ready to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, and it's promised to make its Olympics one of the most technologically impressive yet. There's even talk of self-driving cars, but before those can hit the road, they're going to need some maps. Enter Dynamic Map Planning.

Dynamic Map Planning is a joint venture between the parts supplier Mitsubishi Electric, mapmaker Zenrin and nine different automakers. The hope is to have Japan's roads 3D-mapped by 2020, in time for both the Olympics and the supposed start date for publicly available self-driving cars, Nikkei reports.

Mitsubishi Electric built mapping components that will be installed on a vehicle built specifically for this task. GPS will mark its location, sensors will measure road grades, and lasers will be used to confirm locations for everything from stoplights and street signs to turn lanes and noise barriers. The goal is, obviously, to make the maps as accurate as possible.

The group will start with about 186 miles of expressways, before venturing onto other roadways. It's a nearly mandatory step before self-driving cars are cleared for public use, but the group is also hoping to put Japan on the map (pun not intended) when it comes to 3D mapping. Google and a small number of tech startups currently dominate that field.

Building dedicated mapping vehicles is one way to get the road imaged, but it's not the fastest method out there. At CES earlier this year, Toyota debuted a crowdsourced mapping system that uses GPS and onboard cameras to stitch together maps that are accurate down to 5 centimeters or so.

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