Why Facebook Is Buying Mapillary (FB)

By Amit Chowdhry ● June 20, 2020
  • Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) has acquired a Sweden-based street-level mapping company called Mapillary this past week. These are the details about the deal.

Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) has acquired a Sweden-based street-level mapping company called Mapillary this past week. The terms of the deal were undisclosed. 

What does Mapillary do? Mapillary solicits users to upload photos in order to gain detailed street-level maps around the world. This is similar to how Google Maps works. And companies that use their own mapping tools are able to tap into Mapillary’s data as well.

“Historically, all of the imagery available on our platform has been open and free for anyone to use for non-commercial purposes. Moving forward, that will continue to be true, except that starting today, it will also be free to use for commercial users as well,” wrote Jan Erik Solem, CEO and co-founder at Mapillary, in a company blog post. “By continuing to make all images uploaded to Mapillary open, public, and available to everyone, we hope to enable new use cases, and grow the breadth of coverage and usage to benefit mapping for everyone. While we previously needed to focus on commercialization to build and run the platform, joining Facebook moves Mapillary closer to the vision we’ve had from day one of offering a free service to anyone.”

Why is Facebook buying Mapillary?

Solem pointed out that Facebook is building tools and technologies for improving maps through a combination of machine learning, satellite imagery, and partnerships with mapping communities. These maps are for powering products such as Facebook Marketplace, which drives transactions for million of small businesses and supplies data to humanitarian organizations.

It is also likely that Facebook has plans to integrate streel-level map content into the augmented reality mechanisms built into the Oculus reality headsets.

Earlier this year, Facebook mapping team members Jeff Underwood, Danil Kirsanov, Drishtie Patel, Jason Sundram unveiled a new plan for sharing new global coverage for RapiD in nearly every country in the world and a new partnership with Microsoft Buildings along with collaboration on a new Map With AI plugin to support Java OSM Editor (JOSM). Facebook’s RapiD technology is a modified version of the OSM editing tool — which is a way to add and edit mapping features generated by artificial intelligence predictions. And RapiD was initially built as a tool to add roads and add buildings also.

“As an experiment, we integrated the Microsoft AI Buildings data set into RapiD. The results were very promising, as the buildings worked well with the same workflow we had created for roads. We reached out to Microsoft and presented our experiment. The team at Microsoft was happy to have their work made available in RapiD, and worked with Facebook to release the new version,” wrote the mapping team in the announcement.

Facebook clearly has multiple use cases for Mapillary’s technology.