Mumbai: Phil Allen is the vice-president of sales in the Asia Pacific region for TomTom, a global mapping company founded over 25 years ago. He was earlier CEO of GeoSmart (now a part of TomTom)—a mapping and traffic data supplier for car navigation, geospatial, web and mobile applications in New Zealand and Australia. He will be speaking at EmTech India 2018—an emerging technology conference organised by Mint and MIT Technology Review—on 9 March in Gurugram. In an email interview, he talks about the importance of mapping in autonomous driving, competition in the segment and the future of car navigation. Edited excerpts:
In-dash car navigation systems now face competition from smartphone apps. How are things shaping up in this context?
With smartphones becoming ubiquitous, having navigation as a standard app and delivering fast map updates is definitely currently challenging the other platforms in regard to charging extra for navigation. However, we do see the other platforms reinventing themselves to surpass the benefits of the smartphone and delivering a better graphical interface and user experience. Also, showing that you can bring mobile navigation apps such as Apple Carplay and Android Auto to the car has demonstrated that you can deliver this better integrated solution into the car at no additional cost to the driver. As we start to see the functionality of autonomous driving come to the car which requires very accurate and continuously updating maps in the car, the in-dash experience will surpass the need for mobile apps.
As location-based services become increasingly important, what emerging trends do you see?
The markets are recognizing the importance of ‘location’ as we all live in a spatial world and need to interact with things spatially. This is driving richer content and APIs (application programming interfaces) that are more targeted to solve real-world challenges rather than off-the-shelf standard apps. TomTom is investing heavily into niche APIs that focus on these market needs. An example of this would be in the decisions that a fleet operator needs to make to minimize his daily operational costs to remain profitable and competitive. TomTom is now offering API services that tell him what time tomorrow he should deliver a consignment to minimize his vehicle operational costs which takes into consideration the predictive traffic congestion, toll charges and whether to use the most economic route, based on least fuel burn or take the quickest route.
Do you think navigation technology has matured enough to enter the next phase of mass-market growth?
True mass market growth is when every car is fully autonomous and operates with full navigation technology without a driver. This means every car will have a fully integrated navigation system. We are not there yet but are accelerating at a very fast pace. Children born today may never drive. So navigation on whatever device they will have in the future will operate in a very different way and be more focused on walking, getting to ride-sharing or public transport pickup points and finding places around them.
Recently, there was a lot of hue and cry over TomTom ending support to several older navigation devices. What action have you taken?
We reached out to some owners of very old TomTom devices (mostly manufactured pre-2013), to let them know that their device would no longer receive map updates. This is because these devices are no longer capable of running the latest software and maps (which require a combination of processing power and storage). As an illustration, in 2010, a map for Europe was 1.6GB (gigabytes). Today, it is 6.5GB. Newer devices and devices with Lifetime Maps were not—and are not—affected.
How do you envision TomTom’s role in the age of connected and driverless cars?
It is widely known that mapping is a key pillar for autonomous driving technology. Autonomous vehicles need high-definition maps (HD maps) to position themselves on the road, to plan their path, and to assist the vehicle sensors. That’s why we have invested early on in this technology, launching the TomTom HD Map in 2015 and quickly becoming the leader in coverage of HD Maps, with nearly 380,000 km mapped across Europe, the US and Japan. We now have coverage in 48 US states as well as 19 European countries.
We are also partnering with Baidu to create high-definition maps for China. In February 2018, we launched AutoStream that delivers our HD map and RoadDNA dataset via a location-based service direct to the car to provide a continuously up-to-date map to the autonomous car. Our ambition is to shape the future of mobility and to take a front seat in contributing to autonomous driving.