Nokia is working on self-driving cars with Mercedes-Benz

When Nokia(s nok) announced the sale of its mobile phone business to Microsoft(s msft), I surmised that what was left – certainly on the location side – would provide strong competition for Google(s goog). And as if to underscore that point, Nokia’s Here business has just announced that it’s working on autonomous cars.

Both companies are actively pushing their location tech into connected cars: Google has gained traction with auto-makers such as Kia and Hyundai, and Nokia revealed customers for its new Here Auto suite late Monday ahead of the Frankfurt Motor Show, namely infotainment platform-builders Magneti Marelli and Continental. But Nokia also revealed that Here is working with Mercedes-Benz on “smart maps” — initially for merely connected cars, but ultimately for autonomous vehicles.

This will cover much of the same territory that Google is traversing in its own quest to build a self-driving car, although – from Nokia’s perspective at least – with a more limited scope. While Google tests its vehicles in California, Here and Mercedes-Benz have started off by building a 3D map of the route taken by the first ever automobile, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, between Mannheim and Pforzheim in southern Germany.

According to a statement:

“Based on the particular requirements of autonomous vehicles, this map includes precise road data that go beyond traditional maps, including the number and direction of lanes, traffic signs along the route and even exact coordinates of traffic lights.”

Of course, these are still early days for autonomous vehicles. Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler said on Sunday that it was targeting 2020 as the year when its self-driving cars would hit the road, which matches what Nissan promised a couple weeks back.

So now is the time for car manufacturers and location firms to stake their claim, and that’s what we’re seeing. Google is certainly working on a greater variety of technology for this space, but the mapping component is crucial and Here seems to be making solid strides.

Nokia Here EVP Michael Halbherr will be speaking at our Mobilize conference, which is running from 16-17 October in San Francisco.