Company Updates, Engineering Updates

Civil Maps “Localizes” without Maps in Napa


By Nicholas Stanley, Technical Operator, Civil Maps

Maps can be exceptionally powerful – a well-crafted map can mean the difference between arriving on time… or not arriving at all.

We at Civil Maps have been working tirelessly to bring the next generation of high-definition augmented reality maps (“HD Semantic Maps”) to fruition, but in the case of our recent team-building foray into Napa Valley, a world-renowned culinary and viticultural hub, I didn’t need any special map to navigate.

The city of Napa is my hometown, and it just so happens to be a place that many aspire to make a pilgrimage to, even just once in a lifetime; in contrast, up until recently I’ve commuted away from Napa to Civil Maps’ offices around the Bay Area, nearly every day since I began work in 2016.

When it came time to organize a trip to “The Valley” for my colleagues, I was enthusiastic to drive the process forward.  Some of the non-locals were initially confused by my terminology. In the high-tech industries oriented around the San Francisco Bay, “The Valley” usually refers to the Santa Clara Valley, or “Silicon Valley”…but for me,  it’s usually general shorthand for “The Greater Napa Valley Region”.

Many had questions about how long it took me to commute, thinking perhaps that Napa was much farther away from our San Francisco office than the ~50 miles that separate the two cities. Others assumed that my goal for motivating the rapid adoption of autonomous vehicles was so that we could deploy a self-driving taxi system to service the throngs of wine-enthusiasts queueing for travel to and from the many Napa wineries…and although that’s a decent idea in its own right, it was a pleasure to dispel some of these myths.

Our social events were largely arranged around wining and dining, as is customary for visits to the Napa region.

Cheers from the Oxbow Public Market

First, we would get our bearings while convening for lunch at the Oxbow Public Market, a collection of boutique pop-up style shops in an open galleria, adjacent to a scenic bend in the Napa River. Here, we sought to discuss the local landscape and its inextricable connections to history, as Native Americans and early European settlers initially used the calm bend in the river to locate their encampments, and later, many Chinese railroad workers formed one of California’s first “Chinatowns.”  

The other “The Valley” in the San Francisco Bay Area

Second, we would travel to Opus One, brainchild of Robert Mondavi and Baron Phillipe de Rothschild, one of the Napa region’s preeminent elite wineries…and one at which my cousin just so happens to be a lead winemaker. Here, we learned how the geology and landscape of the Napa Valley is reflected in the art of viticulture, in short, hot summers, volcanic soil and a loamy riverbed create excellent conditions for Vitis Vinifera. Later on during the tour, we noted how Opus’ “optical sorting machine” has parallels to Civil Maps’ HD Cartography in its approach to using AI to identify telltale signatures of low- quality fruit, hopefully before it makes its way into the fermentation pipeline.

Getting technical in the Opus One tank room

Third, we would reconvene at the esteemed Silverado Resort and Spa for a quick check-in and refresher before dinner. Once again, the geography and topology of the Valley caused many to ask questions about the charred hills surrounding the resort – the result of the devastating wildfires that afflicted the region in 2017. This destruction served as an excellent illustration of the necessity for frequent dynamic updates of any reference maps, as many buildings and roads were damaged and much infrastructure changed as a result of the massive blaze.

Bouchon Bistro

Lastly, we took one final trip up to the tiny hamlet of Yountville, where we sat outside for a sensory overload at Bouchon. Here some of the fantastic local wine was enjoyed, some delicious meals were served, and we sat under the open sky enjoying each others’ company in a way that many never get to experience. It may sound trivial, but for some of our talented employees from urban hubs around the world, the presence of the stars above us was a largely unfamiliar sight. Given that we’re generally a bunch of geeky engineer types, this sense of wonder for the natural world eventually turned into a spontaneous lesson on the parallax of heavenly bodies, and the surprising utility of freely available Augmented Reality constellation-finding apps. Sometimes sitting out under the stars can become a successful team-building exercise!

There is yet much work for Civil Maps to accomplish in our industry, but that said — oftentimes the most efficient (and enjoyable!) path from one’s origin to a desired destination is not in a straight line. We all benefit in taking time to enjoy life in the moment and to be rich in the company we keep.

Interested in joining the Civil Maps team? Please visit https://careers.jobscore.com/careers/civilmaps or email  jobs@civilmaps.com to learn about new opportunities.