SoftBank-Backed Mapbox Targets Ride-Hailing, Self-Driving Cars
(Bloomberg) -- Mapbox Inc., backed by SoftBank Group Corp., says it has a role to play in Masayoshi Son’s vision for ride-hailing and autonomous cars.
The provider of mapping data for Tinder, Evernote and Facebook Inc. in October raised $164 million in a funding round led by the SoftBank Vision Fund. The infusion was aimed at helping Mapbox go beyond maps and develop software that can convert a smartphone into a car dashboard heads-up display, Chief Executive Officer Eric Gundersen said in an interview. That technology has a natural fit with Son’s portfolio of investments in the world’s biggest ride-hailing companies, he said.
Son took the stage on Thursday at SoftBank World, the Japanese company’s annual two-day event for customers and suppliers, to paint a vision of a future where cars driven by humans will go the way of horse-drawn carriages. Son is one of the most influential investors in ride-hailing. He has poured as much as $9.5 billion into Didi Chuxing and led a $9.3 billion investment in Uber Technologies Inc. The Japanese billionaire believes his investments in Didi, Uber, Southeast Asia’s Grab, India’s Ola and 99 in Brazil, as well as General Motors Co.’s autonomous-car unit will be central to making it a reality.
“The Vision Fund has a very clear strategy in regards to ride-hailing and we have very important tech for transportation,” Gundersen said on the sidelines of the event.
Uber is already using Mapbox internally for data visualization and rival Lyft Inc. relies on it for estimating arrival times, the CEO said. Mapbox has more than 400 million monthly active users and collects anonymous location data every time someone creates a memo in Evernote or uses maps on Snapchat.
SoftBank’s investment has enabled Mapbox to gain a year’s worth of development for its Vision SDK software, which can detect road edges, street signs and emergency vehicles, Gundersen said. Mapbox sped up development of its Vision SDK by a year thanks to SoftBank’s investment, he said. The software is used to detect road edges, street signs and emergency vehicles.
That data, combined with location information from users, can be valuable for training self-driving cars. Products using the software will be announced later this year and Mapbox is also planning to reveal partnerships with European automakers in the fall, he said.
“This is a data game,” Gundersen said. “The entire way of how we’ve been making maps is about to change.”
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