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As transportation evolves, so does the partnership between TomTom and Microsoft

In its 26 years, Amsterdam-based TomTom has grown from a start-up that created the easy-to-use navigation device to a global technology company that develops advanced telematics fleet management systems, embedded automotive navigation solutions, innovative personal navigation devices, apps and real-time location-based products. Today, the navigation technology company is taking a front seat in contributing to autonomous driving, smart mobility and smarter cities.

At AutoMobility LA last week, TomTom and Microsoft announced a partnership to offer Azure Location-Based Services (LBS) as APIs, using TomTom’s real-time mapping data integrated directly into Azure. Two of the firm’s executives — co-founder Peter Frans Pauwels and managing director Anders Truelsen — recently shared their views on the partnership’s significance. Here are some of the highlights from those conversations.

Photo of TomTom managing director Anders Truelsen.
TomTom managing director Anders Truelsen at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington. (Photo by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)

TomTom and transportation are evolving, and this partnership is important to both — and to Microsoft

Peter Frans Pauwels: Most people know us mainly from our GPS devices. These days, we’re one of only a few technology companies with a world-spanning digital map of the road network. And we’re a big-data company, turning our traffic data into actionable insights to help city planners and citizens make better decisions, resulting in reduced road congestion and smarter cities. With over 20 trillion data points in our data centers, and adding 10 billion data points every day, we provide accurate traffic information in 69 countries to more than 5 billion drivers.

Our office infrastructure was already hosted by Microsoft, and our real-time map is hosted in the Azure cloud. So we did have a relationship with Microsoft before, but this is a new phase in our collaboration that is hugely important for us as we see a lot of synergies across companies.

We’ve got to be sure transportation is going to be safe, clean and enjoyable. Getting there will require a lot of work. The scale of Microsoft and its cloud — the security, safety, availability — those are really important to us to realize our vision, so we can scale up and make the technology we have today much more accessible to many more parties.

Anders Truelsen: With this agreement, we were able to put a full solution in place So it’s indeed a true strategic partnership. We have a very clear common goal and a very clear common strategy.

For example, we have been taking our APIs and natively, seamlessly integrating them into the cloud, so any enterprise customer or developer using Azure now has access to our products. You can combine connected devices, avoid traffic and accidents, search for the nearest restaurants, and make sure you have a route with a strong cellular connection the whole way.

There is a lot of common interest between the companies. We make our data more accessible than ever to a wide audience of users. At the same time, Azure LBS customers now have access to build with a wide array of TomTom API services, including Search and Geocoding, Routing, and Traffic and Maps, making this a mutually beneficial partnership.

The partnership will benefit both organizations and consumers

PFP: The information we have about the use of roads offers many more opportunities than what we’re focusing on today. If you’re going to use tax dollars to make big investments in new highways, bridges or tunnels, then planners, governments, infrastructure operators and application builders will be able to get and use important decision data. They’ll come up with solutions we can’t even imagine today. Already we have data helping manage traffic lights. Making that available on a global basis — that’s where we need to be in the cloud with Microsoft.

Transportation will become increasingly personalized. Guiding it will both consume and generate more data

PFP: More will happen in mobility in the next 10 years than we’ve seen in the past 100 years. Fast-forward 10 or 15 years, it’s not unlikely that if you need transport, you’ll just call it up with your smartphone — pretty much like Uber today, but that will apply to all mobility, in a vehicle that’s probably electricity or hydrogen based.

Cars will get more and more sensors. A lot of them already have cameras, and they’ll get radar and lidar. The infrastructure will get more sensors. We’re going to get an explosion of data, and that will let us deepen the map, get the quality up even further. With artificial intelligence, we should be able to work toward a map that’s self-maintaining. We’re moving toward a cloud-based system that’s going to be orders of magnitude more granular and deeper than what we have today.

Mobility is becoming increasingly dependent on cloud-based location data — for example, in self-driving cars and in helping drivers of electric vehicles understand the range they have.

Big data means big security challenges

PFP: If you’re tracking vehicles and smartphones, security and privacy are very important matters and continue to be our priority. Microsoft plays an important role in security and privacy in the cloud.

Awareness and data-sharing are essential

PFP: The auto industry is already aware of what’s coming, though the path forward isn’t always clear. But if you look at infrastructure owners, like cities, there is less awareness of what’s possible even today. There are already important actions cities can take, like analyzing traffic flow to reduce congestion and increase safety. Microsoft’s span is definitely going to help increase awareness.

AT: My advice to cities, carmakers and others involved in transportation is to share your data, obviously while adhering to the strictest privacy principles. We’ll achieve some of our use cases only if data is being made available. If data from cars, cities and cameras can all be combined, we can make road travel safer and cut congestion.

Improvements need to transcend transportation

PFP: Today we’re just at the start. We’re working with car manufacturers, transportation providers, logistics companies and governments on getting vehicles smarter. But we also have to make cities smarter and the infrastructure smarter.

Top photo: TomTom co-founder Peter Frans Pauwels at AutoMobility LA. (Photo by Jeffrey Christian, Sideroad Media)