Harvard on the Map: Interview with James Wu, DeepMap Co-Founder and CEO

By | March 8, 2021

DeepMap occasionally invites guests to publish on the DeepMap blog. Today’s post is guest-authored by Jennifer Horowitz, graduate degree candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design 22.

Jennifer Horowitz, host of Harvard on the Map, her geospatial radio program on the Harvard student radio station, interviewing James Wu, DeepMap

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing James Wu, co-founder and CEO of DeepMap, for my geospatial radio program, “Harvard On the Map” on the Harvard student radio station. We talked about a range of topics, including how James got his start in digital mapping.

James said his fascination with the technology arose from two sources — the magic of zooming into mapped environments at an amazing level of detail, and his own tendency to get lost (a tendency I also share).

In 2016, James founded DeepMap to make sure you’ll never get lost again — or, more accurately, that your car won’t get lost, since it’s the one that will do the driving. In fact, says James, your car will do the mapping as well as the driving.

James Wu, DeepMap co-founder and CEO, in conversation with Jennifer Horowitz, host of Harvard on the Map geospatial radio program

James said there’s a new revolution in maps. “Before, we used machines to help us collect data and make a navigation map for humans to use. Nowadays, because of self-driving cars, the machine is going to make the map for other machines to use.”

“As a result,” he said, “these maps will have huge amounts of data that sometimes may not even make sense to humans, with centimeter-level precision.”

James explained that new cars are already being outfitted with all kinds of sensors — cameras, radar, ultrasonic, GPS, and lidar — which can be used to make the super-accurate maps that assisted and autonomous cars will need to navigate.

James sees several advantages to using the cars themselves to maintain these maps.

  • First, it solves occlusion, which emerges as a major issue, at times, with airborne imagery. Cars can see inside the underground garages and tunnels that a drone can’t.
  • Secondly, collecting data from millions of cars in real time will allow the maps to be continuously updated, for a refresh rate much greater than would be possible by other means.

As James put it, “Map creation is not the core problem. Map updating, and keeping it updated, that’s the core problem of mapping. On the ground, as long as people are driving, we capture everything.”

I conclude all of my interviews on the program with the same question — describe a time that my interviewee was lost, whether geographically or metaphorically (in their lives or careers), and how they found their way back again.

James described how, following a period of intensive study around HD-mapping during his PhD work, he sometimes found himself rushing to interviews or meetings and got lost on the way.

This experience helped to build a passion for navigation, route optimization, and automotive GPS prior to his founding of DeepMap, along with co-founder Mark Wheeler. James explained, “I hate being late and getting lost — so that’s actually why I got into the mapping industry”.

Listen to the interview here | Video available here

For more episodes of Harvard on the Map, tune in each Saturday at 8pm ET on the Harvard student radio station via Mixlr (https://mixlr.com/gsd-radio), the Harvard Graduate School of Design official radio page (https://www.gsd.harvard.edu/gsd-radio/), or listen in on conversations with James Wu (among many other geospatial iconoclasts) on the Harvard on the Map radio show.

Jennifer Horowitz
A.B. Harvard College ’19 | M.S. USC Spatial Sciences Institute ’21| M.S. Harvard Graduate School of Design ’22

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About DeepMap: DeepMap is accelerating safe autonomy by providing the world’s best autonomous mapping and localization solutions. DeepMap delivers the technology necessary for self-driving vehicles to navigate in a complex and unpredictable environment. The company addresses three important elements: precise high-definition (HD) mapping, ultra-accurate real-time localization, and the server-side infrastructure to support massive global scaling. DeepMap was founded in 2016 and is headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., with offices in Beijing and Guangzhou, China. Investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Accel, GSR Ventures, Generation, Goldman Sachs, NVIDIA, and Robert Bosch Venture Capital. For more information, see www.deepmap.ai.


Harvard on the Map: Interview with James Wu, DeepMap Co-Founder and CEO was originally published in DeepMap Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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