Here adds owners’ vehicle data to map platform, counters TomTom

Here has launched Here Real Time Traffic, its first service built on data aggregated from its OEM-owners’ vehicles, ahead of an expected sea-change in automaker habits. Owned by a consortium of Audi, BMW, Daimler, as well as Intel and a trio of Chinese investors, Here will use their sensor data to improve the accuracy of mapping platform – tapping into the latest data being collected and shared by connected cars, as the company looks to counter a resurgent TomTom.

Here has released little information on exactly what sensor information will be used in Real-Time Traffic, although the company’s launch materials  suggest that all modern sensors in a vehicle could contribute to the platform – from GPS, acceleration actions, braking pressure, video cameras, emergency brake activation, to ignition.

Automakers would likely have the final say on exactly which sensor data they would like to contribute to the service. Here, was purchased by a group of German automakers Audi (part of Volkwagen), BMW and Daimler – making these automakers the most likely to introduce this new feature when it’s ready for market.

Here has already begun a deal with BMW as its first customer for its Open Location Platform (OLP). As part of the deal, live sensor data from BMW vehicles will be fed back into the OLP. Negotiating the OLP deals with automakers will be crucial for Here, to support the Real-Time Traffic feature – which it will then sell to all manner of customers outside of the auto market.

The fact that Here is owned by this group could concern other potential automotive customers. Automakers are known to be rather sensitive about the data generated by their vehicles. A case in point is the effort made by Toyota and Ford to jointly develop the SmartDeviceLink platform, to prevent smartphones from connecting to the cars data ecosystem – keeping Apple and Google out.

However, if automakers wish to continue their progression towards developing SEA level 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles, most accept that this will require some form of adaptive mapping – an element Here is trying to play up in the marketing of this service.

Ralf Herrtwich, Senior VP Automotive at HERE, said that the new service “moves us closer to a live representation of the road environment needed for both advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and self-driving applications”.

The maps are key to the self-driving capabilities, providing a long-range view of the world that the short-range on-board sensors can’t see. Essentially, the on-board sensing prevents the car driving into other vehicles on the road, but the maps are what lets its drive from home to work, or from city to city. A self-driving vehicle needs both.

TomTom and Here are headed for a drawn-out conflict, as they compete to become the prime choice of high-definition maps for self-driving vehicles. Both companies will rely on harvesting data from vehicles traveling on the roads to keep their maps fresh. The Real-Time Traffic feature is a convenient mechanism by which Here can gain some of sensor data that should be critical for real-time HD Live map – but TomTom is pursuing this same strategy.

Here also hopes its Real-Time Traffic service will go some way to readdressing the balance between the mapping service it offers and those currently made popular by smartphones. Consumers have increasingly chosen to use smartphone apps for navigation and traffic updates, and automakers have struggled to come up with anything to counter the trend.

Here should have a considerable advantage over the smartphone mapping applications, in that the car can collect a considerably higher quality of data than a smartphone, when it comes to traffic conditions – as the automakers haven’t allowed full smartphone integration, and don’t seem likely to.

For example, a smartphone-hosted traffic app can extrapolate that there’s a traffic jam after a few minutes. But real-time braking information can suggest that a traffic jam is about to occur, enabling Here to report to customers more reliably about the nature of traffic events – adding value to the Here Live map above what is offered by the smartphone makers.

As well as the smartphone mapping platforms, Here also must contend with its resurgent competitor TomTom, which recently made a string of announcements about the development of its offering – partnering with Baidu to add Western Europe to its HD map coverage, and unveiling a PoC with Cisco that uses lasers and fiber optic to monitor cars travelling down a road.

The European addition amounts to just under 110,000-miles, across 19 countries – bringing TomTom’s total coverage to nearly 225,000-miles. This map, which acts as a 3D view of the roads and surrounding environment, is used by TomTom’s HD Map, as well as its RoadDNA products.

RoadDNA is essentially TomTom’s competitor to Here’s HD Live Map. This looks to be the critical area of the clash between the two companies, which will go a long way towards determining the future winners in the autonomous driving space.