After its $2.8 billion sale from Nokia to a consortium of German car makers, HERE is here to stay, and it’s doubling down on its Chicago presence with hundreds of new jobs.

HERE–a digital mapping company that was previously owned by Nokia and sold last year to an auto group made up of Audi, BMW and Daimler–is playing a critical role in the development of driverless car technology, and for years has been one of Chicago’s largest digital employers.

HERE’s roughly 1,100 Chicago workers make up about a fourth of the company’s total number of employees, and HERE plans to fill more than 200 additional Chicago jobs, George Filley, HERE’s Global Head of Digital Transportation Infrastructure, told Chicago Inno after he spoke last week at the Amazon AWS Summit.

“When it comes to high tech, Chicago can be a center for excellence, and HERE expects we are going to play a major role in terms of providing opportunities and developing core competencies around automated vehicles,” Filley said. “And that should be very exciting for the city.”

HERE’s Chicago presence didn’t appear to ever be in doubt (Filley said there weren’t talks about moving the Chicago team to Berlin, where the company is officially based, or elsewhere). But with new ownership always comes the possibility of relocation–and it’s certainly possible that Facebook or Apple, two of HERE’s other reported suitors, could have wanted to centralize their driverless car teams in the Valley.

But Filley said HERE has plans to expand even further in Chicago beyond adding the initial 200 jobs, creating positions for engineers, product managers, data analytics, and more high-tech gigs.

“When we look at where the future is going, we have plans for a significant increase in the number of employees on the technical side,” he said.

HERE’s future plans are ambitious: provide the mapping technology that powers autonomous vehicles. But we are still a ways away from a day when a fully driverless car hits the road, Filley said, and HERE’s more immediate goals involve vehicle safety and providing mapping that helps vehicles with semi-automonous driving. It’s less about getting to George Jetson, Filley explained, and more about sensing when there’s an animal in the road or an accident up ahead.

Earlier this year HERE unveiled HD Live Map, which the company called the “world’s most advanced cloud-based map asset commercially available for vehicles today.” The mapping technology creates a more detailed representation of the road, allowing vehicles to essentially “see around corners” and operate beyond just the sensors on the car. It accounts for things like real-time road construction and traffic accidents, how fast other cars tend to drive on certain streets, and how many lanes a highway has.

These are vital technology improvements in the path towards fully-automonmous driving, as a car will need to do a lot more than just stay in its lane and sense the vehicles around it. Driving conditions are unpredictable, and things like speed limit changes and road closures can happen at a moment’s notice. HERE’s technology updates in near real-time, giving drivers the accurate road condition information.

So, with billions being spent on autonomous vehicle technology from industry giants like Google, Apple, Uber and other auto makers, just how far away are we from driverless cars? It’s tough to say, Filley admits, and he acknowledged that the 10 to 20 year timeframes that some predict might be too ambitious.

“When you talk about technology, and you talk about timeframes that are that long, you don’t know. What we do know is the industry is actively moving towards automated and driver assistance capabilities,” he said. “When you get to the point where you no longer have to drive, that’s a great end result. But I can tell you that the value that companies like HERE are bringing today are going to save lives, and they’re going to improve driver performance.”

Filley added that HERE has been in talks with the city of Chicago to test driverless cars on city streets, but said it’s “only a matter of time before we do some sort of pilot.”

“I see that as a logical thing to happen in the future,” he said.

Image courtesy of HERE