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Published March 04, 2013, 09:27 AM

Nokia's mapping technology used around the world

FARGO – It’s a place where you can look at the Empire State Building from directly overhead, swing over to Australia for a three-dimensional view of the Sydney Opera House, and then zip over to Rome for look around the ruins of the Coliseum – all in a matter of moments.

By: Shane Mercer, Forum News Service

FARGO – It’s a place where you can look at the Empire State Building from directly overhead, swing over to Australia for a three-dimensional view of the Sydney Opera House, and then zip over to Rome for look around the ruins of the Coliseum – all in a matter of moments.

All of this is brought to you by Nokia-owned map website Here.com, which can take you around the world almost instantly.

And the Nokia campus in south Fargo plays a significant role in making it happen, by creating work flows and engineering processes, and conducting project management and back-end quality testing.

Located just south of Interstate 94 near 25th Street, Nokia’s unassuming Fargo office is the base for the advanced production unit of Nokia’s Location and Commerce division, branded as “Here.” About 300 people work at the Fargo site, formerly known as Navteq.

But while the “Here” website with its three-dimensional renderings of several places, is nifty, it’s just one piece of the Nokia pie.

Four out of five cars in the world with in-dash navigation use Nokia maps, said Oskar Södergren, senior communications manager in Chicago for Nokia’s “Here.” Garmin’s personal navigation devices use the Nokia technology. Bing Maps and MapQuest are a couple of other recognizable names that tap Nokia map technology.

The Nokia map content covers 196 countries, and the company makes 2.7 million changes to the map daily, according to information from Nokia. Data comes into the map from about 80,000 sources, plus a fleet of vehicles used to gather information.

“The work that we do here out of Fargo, we’re connected with the whole world,” said Brian Carroll, director of advanced production in Fargo. “We have field staff in Europe, in Africa, in Latin America, and we interact with these guys on a regular basis, and we’re constantly going to these different locations.”

While the maps Nokia’s Fargo office helps create take users around the world, it also brings the world here for things like training, project setup and engagement with other parts of company.

“This past year, we had over 300 people that came from all over the place into Fargo, working with our production team – people from India, people from China, people from Korea, people from Europe,” Carroll said.

The location database is also what drives the company’s City Lens app for Windows Phone. Users of the camera can view an overlay of the restaurants, stores and other businesses that are around them and access their information.

“It’s basically augmented reality,” Carroll said.

While City Lens is currently an app for Windows Phone, Södergren said the company has a “platform agnostic approach” to its mapping data.

“We want to be able to serve any platform,” he said. “So the idea isn’t to be specific to Nokia phones or Windows Phone, but rather make our content available for any platform that wants to use it.”

Navteq was founded in 1985 in Sunnyvale, Calif., as Navigation Technologies. The company opened a division in downtown Fargo in the mid-1990s with 16 employees. That site moved to its current location at 1715 Gold Drive S., in 2001. Finland-based Nokia purchased Navteq for more than $8 billion in 2007.

“I think already then, you saw that location would be the next frontier of mobility; that would be the next area of investment and technological development and where you would see a number of new services and new user behaviors developing from,” Södergren said.

The mapping process has moved well beyond simple, two-dimensional representation.

“A lot of people have this misconception we create a map like the old atlas days,” said Todd Hallstrom, senior manager for advanced production, which is based in Fargo.

It’s a detailed, 3-D map world now. Nokia has a fleet of cars that gather information via LIDAR (light detection and ranging), allowing them to collect pinpoint data on things like bridge heights, road widths, distances from signs, and more. These units can collect more than 1.3 million data points per second, according to information from Nokia. LIDAR is also one of the tools used in the technology that allows road signs to be automatically detected and noted in the map database.

“We’re really basically putting together a complete index of the real world,” said Carroll, a native of Fargo. “And what that’s going to enable us to do is to help cars navigate uphill and downhill so the transmissions can throttle down, the headlights will start to be able to move with the curvature of the road. And then eventually you’re going to be able to bring a lot of safety features into the car.”

Some features – such as the automated headlight curvature – are already available on vehicles.

Jim Gartin, president of the Greater Fargo/Moorhead Economic Development Corp., believes the Navteq/Nokia presence has helped spur growth in the Fargo-Moorhead area’s technology sector.

“This technology sector in the Greater Fargo-Moorhead area is growing, and it’s growing at an amazing rate,” he said. “And Nokia’s position here and what they have and the types of talent they bring and the salaries that they pay their staff, those are exactly what we want in this community.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734.

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