Luxury Carmakers' HERE Map Service Taps Sensors for Traffic Data

  • First use of in-car sensors, cameras to steer daily commute
  • BMW, Audi, Mercedes models to provide data on road hazards

The digital mapmaker acquired by BMW AG, Audi AG and Daimler AG is rolling out a real-time traffic service that warns of road hazards and helps find parking spaces by utilizing the sensors and cameras mounted on board the luxury models of its owners.

The service that will debut early next year is the first use of automotive sensors to provide crowd-sourced data to give drivers immediate information on traffic flow, according to a statement from HERE, the unit acquired from Nokia Oyj in 2015 for $3.1 billion. The driving data generated by the German luxury cars will provide more detailed information than the crowd-sourced traffic service offered by rival Waze, owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google, according to Nicholas Goubert, head of platform product management for HERE.

Digital maps have become a heated battle ground in the drive for autonomous cars, which require highly detailed images of their surrounding to navigate without a human driver. Google paid $1 billion for Waze in 2013, and Ford Motor Co. in July invested in Civil Maps, a California startup that creates three-dimensional maps for self-driving cars. HERE’s traffic service, debuting at this week’s Paris Motor Show and sold to the world’s automakers, shows how digital maps could connect to autonomous driving. In addition to providing information to drivers, the service can trigger a car’s automatic brakes to avoid a highway hazard.

"A local hazard warning will not only be sent to the driver, it will also be sent to the car’s assisted-driving system so that the car itself can start braking before the incident," Goubert said in an interview.

HERE already provides map data for about 80 percent of cars with in-dash navigation systems in North America and Europe. It hopes to sell this service to those automakers and to persuade them to share sensor data from their cars in order to provide a richer data stream on traffic conditions.

"There is a lot of interest from automakers in participating," Goubert said. "There’s no doubt we will benefit from more data."

For example, the more cars turning on windshield wipers and applying anti-lock brakes will better inform those using the service that rain is making roads slick ahead, slowing traffic. Cameras now installed in cars will be used to read road signs warning of construction or lane closures or simply what parking spaces are available along a street. All data remains anonymous and no individual driver’s location or other details are revealed, Goubert said.

There is a multi-billion dollar potential for the market for these services, Goubert said. It will eventually spread beyond cars and to all devices connected to the Internet, he said.

"What we are seeing today is the technology and automotive industries coming together to create services that will elevate the driving experience for billions," HERE Chief Executive Officer Edzard Overbeek said in a statement. "These new services are just the beginning."

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