Mitsubishi Electric, Zenrin and nine other automakers will start collecting high resolution 3D maps for self-driving cars to use, in preparation for autonomous car deployment in the country.

The project is backed by the Cabinet Office’s Cross-ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (quite a mouthful), which commissioned Dynamic Map Planning, a joint venture of the 11 companies, to build the 3D maps.

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Japan’s government hopes that self-driving cars will be on the road before the start of the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020, according to Nikkei.

Better 3D mapping needed?

Highly detailed 3D maps provide a ton of data for self-driving cars, which can be analyzed by machine learning systems and fed into an entire fleet of vehicles. Once an entire city is mapped, the self-driving car could, in theory, know every single traffic light, walkway, and intersection while driving less than a mile.

Increasing the resolution provides a clearer picture to the self-driving cars on highway off ramps, which may result in less technical issues on the road when an autonomous car doesn’t know what to do.

The consortium of companies will start mapping 300km of the country’s main expressways. It hopes to extend the mapping to cover the entire country, but that will take time.

The Japanese government wants to be a leader in the self-driving market, but so far it has lagged behind some of the Asian Tiger regions, especially Singapore, which has already trialled nuTonomy and Delphi, two self-driving programs.

To make up for lost ground, the government has invested in several self-driving and electric car projects. Honda, Toyota, and Mitsubishi are all working on self-driving systems, so there’s a fighting chance Japan will become a leader like it has been in almost every tech revolution for the past 30 years.