Interview with Mapillary: Crowdsourced Street-Level Images

Mapillary was first known as a mobile app and website for crowdsourced geotagged pictures, used by Openstreetmap volunteers.

But when the start-up raised $1.5 million in January with Sequoia as a lead investor, we thought there was more than a nice crowdsourcing project.

GPS Business News gets the full story from its CEO and founder Jan Erik Solem.

GPS Business News: Who are you and what led you to create Mapillary?

Jan Erik Solem: I come from a computer vision background. Did my PhD, started a face recognition company that got acquired in 2010 (i.e. acquired by Apple where Solem worked thereafter). I’m a researcher at heart but I want to see research results integrated in products that people see and use everyday and that hopefully have an impact on their lives.

Mapillary comes from an idea I have had for many years, since my PhD days. A photo representation of places that anyone can contribute to that improves and grows. Something that generates a new representation with the photos as input.

When I quit my job in the summer of 2013, the timing felt right for a crowdsourcing application to realize this idea and I started building the first prototype. A few months later, in September 2013, Mapillary was born with two co-founders. A few months later we launched the service and a fourth co-founder joined to form the core team.

GPS BN: Now let’s talk a bit about Mapillary: what is the idea, what is the end goal and what stage have you reached now?

Jan Erik Solem: The long term goal is to have the best photo representation of every place people care about. Map the world with photos in a way that improves the view and map with every new photo.

Right now we are at a point where the technical platform is in place and scales nicely, usage growth is picking up worldwide, and we’re starting the first real commercial integrations.

GPS BN: you talked about usage growth, can you give me some metrics about that, I meanapp downloads, pictures uploaded, users, …?

Jan Erik Solem: We’re getting about 500,000 photos per week currently and 20% user growth month to month. More than 10 million in total.

GPS BN: Crowdsourcing street level photos is nice but what is the business behind that? You have services and products for businesses?

Jan Erik Solem: Our services are free for personal and non-commercial use. We also give OpenStreetMap rights to derive data for free. For commercial use we offer a Saas service consisting of APIs for photos, data, hosted private projects and more.

GPS BN: what type of customers are you specifically targeting for your B2B services, what is the problem you are solving for them?

Jan Erik Solem: We’re providing a low cost, flexible solution as a replacement or complement to professional street view use where the customer can control data capture. For example cities to use for city planning, street inventory, etc.

We’re also providing data for companies in mapping and navigation through our APIs.

GPS BN: More specifically you have developed a traffic sign recognition software, what shall we know about that?

Jan Erik Solem: We’re a team of computer vision PhDs so we build all our vision technology in house. In this case a sign detection and recognition framework that we trained on EU and US traffic signs. It is a flexible system where we will add more continents and geographic regions soon.

We run this on all images immediately as they come in to our system so if you have API access and monitor traffic sign data in a region, you will get updates as soon as someone uploads a photo from that area, worldwide.


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