Mapping and location technology company TomTom is collecting a lot of data; 21 billion data points are added daily, drawn from devices, apps and in-dash systems. TomTom calls this crowdsourcing of information ‘community input’.
Despite, or perhaps owing to, this vast quantity, according to Heiko Schilling, head of TomTom navigation, the data collected is actually quite simple. It is GPS trace data, which is a latitude-longitude co-ordinate with a time stamp, collected every second. The number of subjects generating that data is also vast; 800 million automotive, enterprise and telematics customers.
With that data TomTom can create a map of road networks and crossings. “That is 65 million kilometres of road network and we can rebuild that on an hourly basis globally,” he said. He added that in urban areas where road data is constantly flowing in, TomTom can rebuild the maps in 20 minutes.
As TomTom has been storing this information in a historic database of speed values since 2006, Schilling and his team are able to deduce how fast people are driving at a given points in time. He is interested in the other information about the road network that can be gleaned from driving speeds.
“Take traffic lights, for instance,” he said. “From the data patterns you can derive whether a certain crossing has a traffic light and the traffic light pattern. You can see if it is not in synch and how this can cause a jam situation at certain hours of the day.” This information can then be relayed to councils and local authorities, which is helpful because Schilling said that some councils do not know where all their traffic lights are, or whether they are in working order.
TomTom Navigation is also able to deduce information about parking. “Every time a journey starts, a parking slot becomes available. Every time a journey ends, you can assume parking availability is there. If you do that at scale, suddenly you can very accurately tell when you can find parking slots in the city and when you cannot.”
Schilling explained that to maintain privacy, the collected data is broken down so that it does not identify the driver or their journey. Also, there is no obligation for drivers to feedback information to TomTom. They are asked for their consent, and the only repercussion for declining is limited use of the product. “If people don’t agree with having an online service, they don’t get live traffic service but they can still use the product,” he said.
TomTom Navigation is also a member of the Navigation Data Standard consortium. It was started in 2006 by BWM, Daimler and Volkswagen with the aim of standardising application maps.
Schilling said: “You have a lot of in-dash and other navigation applications. There’s different mapping providers and what the industry was after, especially the automotive industry, was the separation of the providers of those applications from the actual software, with the purpose of driving down cost and having more flexibility.”
There are more than 30 ‘partners’ in the consortium including six vehicle manufacturers and 31 application or compiler developers, map data providers and service providers. HERE Technologies is also one of the partners.
Schilling added: “There is definitely a lot of cross company collaboration going on, all for the greater good in the sense that the aim is to get the best possible description of the digital wold in navigation systems.”
In the 2000s, TomTom was synonymous with vehicular satellite navigation but has managed to remain a leader in the mapping and location world. “We had to take all the technology components from the satnav and diversify into other industries. At the heart of the company is data,” said Schilling.