New Maps Put the Car in Cartography

In one of last year’s most sought-after acquisitions, Audi, BMW and Daimler teamed up to buy Nokia’s HERE digital mapping business for €2.5 billion. The consortium, which the German carmakers formed in part to maintain control of location-based technologies from tech giants such as Google and Apple, also is looking to add new members to help spread costs. Since the deal was finalized in December,

HERE has won several new contracts and inked agreements with a variety of tech partners.

Next-generation digital mapping technology is a key enabler for a host of vehicle functions and connected car services. In addition to basic navigation capabilities, these new maps increasingly are being used to help drive and steer the vehicles themselves as well as bolster safety and fuel efficiency, improve traffic flow, find parking spots and share information among networked vehicles and supporting infrastructure. 

The maps provide users with highly accurate information that is continuously updated. This includes a vehicle’s location within a lane—down to about 4 inches—and the exact height, grade and angle of every hill and curve in the road, as well as road sign and traffic information. Generated by advanced cameras and vehicle sensors, such details are critical for automated steering, throttle and braking functions.

“As we move toward higher levels of vehicle automation, drivers need to feel that their car is making the right decisions on their behalf,” notes Floris van de Klashorst, HERE’s vice president of Connected Driving.

Using information gathered by its networked vehicle fleet, HERE is rolling out its new HD Live Map library in North America and Europe. When changes are detected, such as a new traffic sign, construction closures or traffic congestion, the information is uploaded to a cloud-based database and shared with vehicles as they approach an affected area.

Through March, HERE has announced a half-dozen ventures with technical partners and local government authorities—ranging from the U.S. and Canada to Kuwait and the Netherlands—to help manage traffic flow and alert drivers about nearby accidents. A pilot program with Colorado’s Dept. of Transportation will use 1,000 connected vehicles to monitor road conditions for the state’s ski resorts, with the latest information shared within the network as well as with traffic management centers. 

HERE also is talking with other companies about joining the consortium. Adding new members would improve the coverage and accuracy of the venture’s maps, with more users feeding real-time traffic and infrastructure-related information into the database. 

At the same time, several other companies and groups are ramping up their own map-based capabilities. Continental is expected to launch its new eHorizon telematics and high-definition mapping system within the next year. The technology will integrate road data with vehicle and trip information to maximize fuel efficiency by prompting drivers when to slow down. In vehicles with automatic stop-start systems, eHorizon can time the engine to restart when a stoplight turns green, before the driver presses the accelerator.

Bosch and TomTom, meanwhile, are working together to develop new high-definition smart maps. Under the partnership, Bosch will provide sensor and software technology to make TomTom’s digital maps more accurate and better able to incorporate data produced by networked vehicles. TomTom, which already has completed high-definition maps for parts of California, Michigan and Germany, plans to roll out new maps for all major automotive areas within the next few years.

Kirkland, Washington-based Inrix, which was spun off from Microsoft in 2005, recently acquired OpenCar, a 5-year-old startup. Combining that company’s platform for in-vehicle software apps with its own real-time traffic expertise, Inrix plans to launch an integrated system that will allow carmakers to offer third-party apps and greater customization. New apps and software updates will be downloaded directly to a vehicle rather than relayed from a user’s phone. 

Inrix predicts the overall global connected vehicle fleet will grow to more than 250 million units by 2020 from a small fraction of that today. That should be more than enough to get future motorists from here to there in digital style.  

�

With more than 25 years of experience, Steve Plumb has covered every aspect of the auto industry as an industry writer, editor and marketing professional. He was the founding editor of AutoTech Daily and rejoined the AutoBeat team in 2015. He previously was the editorial director for a leading public 
relations company.