Nov 21, 2019 07:20 PM

Lagging in the Self-Driving Car Race, Huawei Partners with Precision Mapmaker

NavInfo Co. Ltd. will supply map data and services to Huawei. Photo: VCG
NavInfo Co. Ltd. will supply map data and services to Huawei. Photo: VCG

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. will partner with a Chinese mapmaker to access its high-precision maps, as the embattled telecom giant makes a late foray into the self-driving car business.

NavInfo Co. Ltd. will supply map data and services to Huawei, the company announced in a filing with the Shenzhen Stock Exchange on Wednesday. NavInfo didn’t disclose financial terms of the agreement.

High-precision maps are important for self-driving cars because they offer detailed information that allows safe navigation, particularly when car sensors are impacted by things like adverse weather. But in China, their development has been hampered by government fears that they could threaten national security.

The partnership represents an effort by Huawei to catch up to peers such as search giant Baidu Inc. and social media titan Tencent Holdings Ltd. Both companies have already started public trials of self-driving vehicles, though generally with a human driver riding along as a precaution.

Huawei raised speculation that it would develop its own mapping services when it was granted a rare high-precision map license in July. A source close to Huawei told Caixin the company currently had no such plan, and said the partnership with NavInfo was focused on self-driving cars.

Though China hopes to become a leader in the technology, firms in the country face restrictions on collecting, transmitting, storing and using high-definition map data. The central government considers the information a danger to national security.

In China, public maps are banned from revealing the height, gradient and exact curvature of a road, as well as the height and weight limits of bridges, Zhang Wei, an official with the geographic information regulation department of the Ministry of Natural Resources told Caixin previously. Firms can only include such information if they have been granted a license, and their maps are not available publicly.

Only about 20 companies have been granted such licenses. They include Baidu, Alibaba-backed AutoNavi Software Co. Ltd., NavInfo and Careland Information System Co Ltd. Most automakers are not allowed to collect their own map information and must instead work with licensed mapmakers. German automaker BMW AG’s China unit extended such a partnership with NavInfo in July for that reason.

But change could be coming — Chinese authorities may “adjust” restrictions on high-precision maps sometime in the future to help automakers carry out autonomous driving tests, Zhang said last month at the annual Global Future Mobility Conference.

Self-driving vehicles are a component of China’s overall artificial intelligence development strategy. China’s first national guidelines (link in Chinese) for self-driving road tests, announced in April, stipulate vehicles must be tested along certain routes under the supervision of a qualified driver.

Contact reporter Tang Ziyi (

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