Mapping out the future – talking in-car data with TomTom

Smart mobility and intelligent traffic solutions dominated 2012's Intertraffic Amsterdam event. Frances Cook caught-up with George de Boer, senior manager of Business Development Traffic Solutions at TomTom, to discover how new in-car data systems are fuelling global traffic trends.


Two years ago Intertraffic was mostly focused on roadside equipment, with only one section on ITS technology and smart mobility, George de Boer explained, taking a break from his busy schedule at this year's convention in Amsterdam.

He pointed out that just two years later, at the latest event (which ran from 27-30 March 2012), there was a shift in the number of people present, with three sections featuring smart mobility, while the roadside equipment section got smaller.

Cost-effective in-car technology

"Custom Travel Times has provided speed and bottleneck information for roads since 2008, so Atkins can analyse how different traffic management systems have affected the speed of road users."

Times are certainly changing quickly - it was back in 2004 when TomTom first started introducing integrated satellite navigation devices, just eight years ago, but now satellite navigation, or sat nav, is a common essential in most car users' daily lives. Also, HD Traffic, which was introduced in the Netherlands in 2007, is now present in 23 countries and holds more traffic information than any other company in the world.

TomTom's data is used on a daily basis, not only by drivers but also by governments to analyse traffic flows, reduce congestion and assess infrastructure effectiveness. All of these areas feature in TomTom's latest Intertraffic announcements and, according to de Boer, "could have quite a big effect on helping the industry to move forward".

At the moment the industry is in transition, from an era when data was collected by roadside equipment, manual tracking and devices, such as ANPR cameras, to a place where it is provided as a result of in-car technology. This change is going to be one of the major trends which develops and grows over the next few years.

"The shift from roadside equipment to in-car technology causes some discomfort for road authorities and traffic consultants as they are used to doing business with and looking at data coming from roadside equipment," said de Boer.

"They do see the use of this technology as the future, but in, say, 20 years - but it is going to be much faster than that."

He added: "Governments are challenged right now with budget cuts and they have to look for inexpensive solutions - they can't do manual counts of traffic anymore or use expensive roadside equipment, but they can come to us as we have even better information at a very cost-effective price, so we can help them in these difficult and challenging times."

Government commitment to TomTom Custom Travel Times

One of TomTom's Intertraffic announcements was an agreement with the government of Spain's Basque Country, which will be evaluating traffic conditions in the region through the use of the Custom Travel Times product. By using the company's historic traffic database of more than 5 trillion data points, travel flow can be improved and road network improvements achieved through the deployment of this product.

"The Basque Country will use it to evaluate safety measures on their road network and look at what kind of methods work best to slow down traffic in dangerous situations, especially urban areas," said de Boer.

Access to historic traffic information via TomTom's connected devices is of huge value to governments. "We can tell them more about their road network than they know themselves," said de Boer, adding that the announcement is an important step towards proving to authorities and traffic consultants that the global usage of in-car data is really taking off.

Atkins: data for road traffic analysis

"We are working with local governments but also through traffic consultants, because while we do analysis on travel times, if you are a big government agency preparing for policy makers then you need to take other modalities into account," de Boer explained. "This means combining other data that TomTom can't provide and so that is where a company like Atkins steps in."

"Access to historic traffic information via TomTom's connected devices is of huge value to governments."

It was announced that Atkins, one of the world's leading engineering and design consultancies, used Custom Travel Times to analyse road traffic schemes for its UK clients.

Custom Travel Times has provided speed and bottleneck information for roads since 2008 - even taking time of day and weather conditions into account - so Atkins can analyse how different traffic management systems have affected the speed of road users and travel times, to conduct comparisons.

"So for example, Atkins can study the behaviour of a particular traffic light installation or how a roundabout affects the traffic instead of a normal intersection," said de Boer. "This allows for a before and after analysis."

End-to-end integration shown to reduce travel times

Perhaps the most fruitful announcement for both governments and drivers comes as a result of a study carried out by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), which proved that products powered with Tom-tom's historic and real time traffic technology reduce average drive times by 13% and as much as 30% in congested areas.

HD Traffic uses standard traffic data along with anonymous phone signals from Vodafone and GPS measurements from connected TomTom navigation devices to provide up-to-date real-time traffic information to drivers - and it has the highest traffic jam accuracy in the word.

A side effect of this is that when drivers choose the smart route there are eight percent fewer stops and less fuel consumption (as a result of not braking and accelerating again), which also has a direct result on the environment. This real-time technology is used in a wide range of products, from smartphones to government traffic management centres.

"The impressive thing about this research is that it is comparing more than 85 real drives through an urban area in Berlin and five different devices were tested at the same time," said de Boer.

"Interestingly our non-connected device with only historic traffic data (IQ Routes) finished second best, beating all the other devices with their real-time traffic information."

TomTom connects with more than 60 million sat nav users worldwide, who choose to supply their data anonymously when updating their device. "This is how we know, for example, what a road is like on a Monday afternoon compared with a Sunday.

"HD Traffic is powered by the historical database of five billion speed measurements a day (combining live traffic information from LIVE users and anonymous data from Vodafone subscribers)," de Boer pointed out.

"This is the equivalent of driving ten million kilometres a day, or driving on all the roads in Europe four times in one day."

The future: TomTom's Go LIVE services

"TomTom connects with more than 60 million sat nav users worldwide, who choose to supply data anonymously when updating their device."

While TomTom provides parking information, it doesn't yet provide drivers with a smart parking option so they can be directed towards empty spaces in real-time.

Although this is what de Boer sees as one of the "logical steps for future" it will be developed in line with a package of services offered by TomTom.

"Our CEO talked about this at Intertraffic - parking is on the radar but you can think of other kinds of services as soon as you have that connective car - it's in-car technology as a whole that we see as the opportunity."

Go LIVE 1005 World combines TomTom's sat nav services and TomTom Search & Go Live services, which include weather information, Expedia, TripAdvisor and Twitter. The latter function allows the driver's destination to be tweeted with the estimated time of arrival updating automatically depending on the journey time.

"We are interested in including everything that you can relate to mobility in these additional services," said de Boer. "Every TomTom device acts as a probe, so for every one we sell, the more information we will get. We are already proving that the use of in-car data is reliable and cost-effective and so is likely to be standard practice over roadside equipment in far less than 20 years."