Mapping Software Startup Ushr Lands Installation Deal with Cadillac

Ushr, the Livonia, MI, and Lompoc, CA-based startup making high-definition mapping software for use in semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles, has earned awards and accolades since it launched last year. The latest award has paved a path to get Ushr’s software into future models of a classic American car brand.

Ushr has a big hand in Cadillac’s Super Cruise feature, which Wired characterized as “General Motors’ answer to Tesla’s Autopilot.” Super Cruise, which allows hands-free, semi-autonomous driving, depends on Ushr’s maps to function. When combined with real-time sensors, these maps allow self-driving cars to operate on charted highways, provide exact lane centering, maintain vehicle control through curves, and allow the vehicle to safely anticipate changes in the roadway.

The company was spun out of a 20-year-old venture called GeoDigital, which maps power lines, railways, and engineering structures for the utility and energy sectors. As Ushr’s vice president of operations Chris Thibodeau told us last Fall, GM came to GeoDigital three years ago and asked it to participate in a trial that involved mapping a 20-mile stretch of road. Although primarily working in the energy sector, GeoDigital was utilizing a lot of the same mapping tools, such as LiDAR, that are used with autonomous vehicles.

GeoDigital ended up with the best accuracy score out of all the companies participating in the trial, so the company created a separate entity, Ushr, to pursue the emerging driverless technology market, first with GM. Ushr went on to map all of North America’s highways, which then became the basis for the production maps used for Super Cruise. Brian Radloff, Ushr’s vice president of business development, says that the company’s maps differ from the competition by providing street-level detail—and communicating that detail to the vehicle’s control system—as well as a long-range view that allows cars to proactively anticipate anomalies instead of reacting to sensor data.

In April, GM gave Ushr its Supplier of the Year award in the innovation category, the first time a startup has won the award, Radloff says. Last week, GM announced Super Cruise would be installed in all future Cadillac models.

Ushr was also recognized earlier this month at TU, an annual automotive technology conference held in metro Detroit, where it won the Newcomer of the Year award. Radloff says the recent accolades are an important validation of Ushr’s technology.

“More companies are seeking us out,” he says. “We’re busy rolling out more mileage on the map.” Ushr has already mapped 130,000 miles of interstate highways, and the company expects to have state highways and smaller U.S. highways mapped by the end of 2019. The 50-person company is also planning to go after new automaker customers in the North American market.

“We’re starting with highways and going from less complex rural environments to more complex urban environments,” he adds. He describes Ushr’s growth plans as “a nice, incremental path,” with its mapping software growing in sophistication as autonomous vehicle development is refined. Eventually, Ushr plans to tackle mapping roads and highways in other countries and continents.

“We’re looking for proof points that our technology is working for our customers,” he says. “Once that’s nailed down, we’ll move on to other geographies.”

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