Alec Beale of HERE Technologies outlines how a collaborative platform for automakers and transport authorities to share data is vital if we want to reduce congestion and accidents on Britain’s roads.
When the new Audi A8 goes on sale in Britain later this year it will be the first production vehicle capable of ‘Level 3’ autonomous driving. The German carmaker says its new luxury sedan can drive entirely by itself at speeds of up to 37 mph. That’s a remarkable feat of engineering and one that reminds us that, while we’re legally not yet able to let go of the wheel, technologically the industry is making big advances towards a driverless future.
There are two major developments underpinning this progress. The first is that modern cars are simply becoming more intelligent: they’re able to monitor their environment, understand what’s going on and learn from each drive. They have as many as 200 sensors, measuring everything from tyre pressure to windscreen temperature. They’re also looking out at the world. The A8, for example, packs radar, a front camera, ultrasonic sensors, and – in a first for a production car – even a laser scanner. Armed with these sensory abilities and a host of other hardware and software aids, the car is processing a vast quantity of information to ensure a safer and more efficient drive.
The second major development is connectivity. Almost all high-end cars sold today are linked to servers in the carmaker’s back-end. Web connections are growing in the mid-range too. Today, every second car sold in the UK has one; by 2020, it will be three-quarters. This has given engineers access to a car’s vital statistics – enabling them, for example, to remotely assess vehicle wear-and-tear and schedule maintenance, or even sell user based insurance. The connection also gives carmakers the ability to pipe up-to-date mapping, traffic information and other digital services through to the car.
In an industry often regarded as slow-moving, these changes are undoubtedly significant. However, they don’t quite add up to an intelligent and connected road infrastructure – not yet at least. While our vehicles are finally crossing a digital divide, the reality is that the data they generate doesn’t go far. It tends to be kept by a car brand for itself, and little is shared with other brands. When you consider that there are more than 30 different marques of car on our roads, it highlights how fragmented the market is. Each brand offers a traffic service for its drivers based only on a partial understanding of the road network, and none has the complete picture. If you only had access to data from 3% of cars on the road, would you really have a reliable picture of traffic conditions at any given time?
As we introduce more autonomy on our roads, that lack of scale is a problem. The data generated from sensors on board modern vehicles could be used to warn other cars on the road about traffic flows or possible dangers. The faster that happens, the more efficient and safer our roads will become. But it hasn’t happened yet, and it’s arguably not a question of willingness. Even where there is a readiness to share data, there has so far not been any single system that has made it possible.
HERE Technologies are now working with many organisations to change this. The solution lies in location technology. Since everything has a location, a digital map infrastructure can serve as a rich, three-dimensional canvas for capturing and making sense of data from diverse datasets – whether coming from a car, a train, smartphone or traffic sensor. When you process different and diverse datasets with location context, it enables you to draw connections between them. HERE Technologies, a leading digital mapmaker, has now launched its Open Location Platform with the ambition to facilitate the sharing of location-centric information at scale. For car brands and organizations in the UK, it means being able to pool their data with others as well as access new services created from the resulting expanded data pool.
Three competing car brands – Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz – have already begun sharing vehicle data with HERE. For example, the platform now receives notifications of when a vehicle’s brakes are applied heavily, when it experiences a loss of tyre traction or when its hazard lights are turned on – all of which could suggest an issue, especially in motorway driving. It even gets information showing full-speed windshield wiper use, effectively meaning every car becomes a mobile weather station.
The three carmakers recognize that data generated in real-time by their connected fleets becomes exponentially more useful and valuable if aggregated and shared back out across the road network. HERE is now working to fuse their data with other sources of information in the platform, such as government traffic sensors, smartphone GPS signals, and live public transport information. All that adds up to a more robust, federated view of the broader transportation network to which HERE is providing access though several new platform services – and, importantly, they’re available to any organization.
The first of the services – a new release of our Real-Time Traffic feed – launched this summer and we’re pleased to report a substantial increase in road coverage. For example, our tests on London and Manchester’s arterials show a 40% improvement in the accuracy of the new service over the previous version. This is a good start, and we’ll look to build on that as other automotive companies, and transport agencies, contribute to the service.
More collaborative services are in development. One service for drivers, traffic management centres and local authorities focuses on helping provide awareness of potential hazard warnings. Another is geared towards solving the perennial headaches of on-street parking in our towns and cities.
In the future, transport authorities might also seek to use the data to develop their own services and algorithms.
The platform provides a powerful and scalable engine, while simplifying the extraction of location insights. Often, large-scale location data processing can be a complex, cumbersome process. HERE’s looked to make it easier with simple and effective tools, data models and data pipeline management. And for any organization that does want to build in the platform, it also has a way of monetizing its creations: the platform doubles up as a marketplace where users can exchange data with others. And crucially, they can do so in a way that suits their unique business models, strategies and privacy requirements.
In October 2017, we’re releasing Open Location Platform 1.0 with a robust data set, and the ability to ingest and process data at scale. This release will also include a data store that supports versioned, volatile and streaming data layers, and an ingestion subsystem that brings SDII (Sensor Data Ingestion Interface) car sensor and non-SDII location data into the platform.
Of particular interest to developers in the first release could be the self-service portal. This allows developers to analyze data, and to build and deploy their data processing pipelines. It also offers a software development kit to process and enrich data at scale and deploy it to production in the cloud. Last but not least, it gives developers the ability to use the built-in visualization capabilities to easily view data on high quality maps.
The Open Location Platform offers organizations something new that has not existed until now: a collaborative data-sharing environment in which the whole of the UK’s transport sector can participate and benefit from. As we edge closer to an autonomous future and begin to address the challenges and opportunities that brings, I believe many will see this as a welcome prospect. ◆