Travel information is heading towards smartphones
First publishedin ITS International
Download of apps to smartphones is filling in gaps in floating car data and reinforcing the Beat the Traffic product
Travel information services are undergoing a step change as rapid increase in sales of smartphones brings ITS technology to consumers' fingertips
A virtuous circle of expanding capability is under way in traffic and travel information services, promising much for drivers and reduction of road congestion. A recent rapid rise in sales of smartphones has boosted numbers of vehicles carrying GPS enabled devices and so brought expansion of traffic data available for analysis and dissemination.
Greater numbers of consumers are making use of the resulting information on offer and as they do so, further opportunity is being generated for suppliers to build services and business.
Growth of GPS traffic data appears to be in its infancy. Companies are reporting significant expansion to have occurred only over the past couple of years at most, concurrently with growing global sales of smartphones. Advanced traffic information services made possible are already becoming apparent, in the form of smartphone 'apps' and Internet based products for journey planning and 'dynamic navigation'.
In the United States, Beat the Traffic
, a business launched by California based Triangle Software
, claims to have a lead in private sector provision of traffic information. The company has recorded 1.5 million downloads of its Beat the Traffic app for Internet and smartphones; a traffic information product embellished this year with additional functionality for setting personal preferences for how the data is received.
Beat the Traffic's president is Andre Gueziec. "We have had a very strong year.
With growth in smartphone data and addition of personalisation, we have got the right product at the right time," Gueziec says. The vast majority of Beat the Traffic's apps are downloaded free of charge. Revenue comes partly from advertising displayed with the apps, boosted by subscriptions and sales of data services to television companies and other media.
According to Gueziec, subscriber numbers have passed 2000 and are currently growing by 50 to 100 per day.
"We have sold tens of thousands of apps overall, including white label versions of the same technology rebranded by others," he says.
Beat the Traffic is not turning its sales and services into huge profits. Creating useful apps with live data and traffic forecasts is complex work, involving a number of technologies. "It takes a lot more than just providing information. Our operation is resource intensive at back office," says Gueziec. Traffic data comes from government agencies and other public sector bodies, plus private entities such as TrafficCast
and Clear Channel
, as well as the 'crowdsourced' GPS data from smartphones. It all then has to be sieved for quality and processed through various data fusion, prediction and routing software before being supplied back to Beat the Traffic's customers.
Nonetheless, this operation is profitable and importantly, Beat the Traffic is getting more valuable data with every new smartphone app activated. "Of all our sources, the crowdsourced GPS is the most reliable. It has the lowest latency because it comes to us directly and it gives accurate timestamp, location and speed readings," Gueziec says. "The smartphone data is particularly good because the devices are often sending information from places where it is usually harder to come by; smaller roads and streets that do not have a TMC (traffic message channel) code. GPS is filling in the gaps and continuously reinforcing our product." Beat the Traffic's services are limited to the US at present, but its expanding business is indicative of a global trend in provision of travel information services.
Market reports on smartphone sales vary in detail, but they all display the same general outlook of continuous growth.
Overall, smartphones are reckoned to currently account for at least 30% of global mobile phone sales (40% in Europe and the US) and their number is expected to double by 2015. According to market research specialist IDC, 118 million smartphones were sold worldwide in the third quarter of 2011 alone.
The Nokia Lumia smartphone was launched in October with Nokia Drive and Nokia Maps as key features
Nokia is the latest phone manufacturer to join the smartphone market. At the Nokia World event in London in October, the former global leader in mobile phone announced its aims to grab back a lion's share with launch of the Nokia Lumia; critics questioned Nokia only over its slow response to the competition.
Nokia may emerge with a vital edge in navigation and traffic information, however. The company's purchase of mapping giant Navteq in 2007 has given it direct access to a big resource for collecting and analysing map and traffic data. Navteq's main customer base is currently vehicle manufacturers, but as confirmation of where the travel information market is going, Nokia Drive navigation and Nokia Maps featured as key elements of the Nokia Lumia smartphone launch.
"It may have come as a surprise to some that Nokia has decided to close two traffic offices in Bonn and Philadelphia by the end of 2012, but there is a clear masterplan for understanding the state of the global traffic information market," says director of Navteq Traffic for Europe, Middle East & Africa, Andreas Erwig.
"There is a massive need to synchronise all types of data from around the world and a big demand for delivery of services with one piece of technology." As a consequence, Nokia has set up one team in Chicago as a focal point for the company's work on worldwide traffic data and services.
"There are strong indications that the utopia of travel information is heading towards hand held devices," says Erwig.
"Over the last couple of years the availability of real-time GPS data has exploded. Combined with conventional monitoring, commercial GPS probe and statistical floating car data, a very good picture of traffic behaviour can now be built up. We're well placed to bring it all together. Navteq is the GPS company." Other companies with access to a lot of GPS data have latched onto new possibilities for collecting and providing traffic and travel information. Garmin has this year launched a new version of its StreetPilot navigation system in the form of an app for the iPhone with optional '3D Traffic' live information, hot on the heels of its chief rival in consumer sat nav devices TomTom and its HD Traffic product.
TomTom is pushing forward with its 'Traffic Manifesto' (see sidebar) for reducing road congestion as it positions itself as a service provider for public sector agencies; in addition to its efforts to boost sales of TomTom devices with sophisticated real-time information and dynamic navigation.
The market place has changed for TomTom, which has adjusted its strategy accordingly. Only a few years ago, 95% of TomTom's business came from sales of navigation devices. That figure is now 50%.
The other half of the company's turnover now comes from business customers, fleet operators and partnerships with major vehicle manufacturers - Renault, Fiat Group, Toyota, Mazda and Ford - plus sales of services using data from 60 million GPS connected TomTom devices around the world.
This last aspect is the domainTraffic promise making progress
TomTom has pledged to 'reduce traffic congestion for all' through its Traffic Manifesto launched in September 2010. The company claims to have made significant progress over the past year, on four main 'action areas': getting more people to play an active role in reducing congestion; increasing availability of TomTom HD Traffic; leading improvement of traffic guidance; and bringing key stakeholders together.
Behind the manifesto are the results of a series of TomTom studies. According to TomTom Consumer business development manager Helene Raad, it is has been found that the "holy grail of floating car data" is getting 10% of vehicles navigating with real time information using products such as HD Traffic. Users will typically reduce their journey times by 15%, TomTom reports, but more significantly, the travel and route selection actions of this portion of drivers will also produce a 5% reduction in journey times for all non connected vehicles. "This is enough to make a critical difference," says Raad. of TomTom Licensing (TTL), which incorporates the TeleAtlas business acquired for extending TomTom's mapping capability worldwide. TTL has recently extended its services to Australia, Canada, Luxembourg and Poland, taking its coverage to 18 countries, focusing mainly on offering data for helping public sector traffic management efforts.
"We can make a real impact on congestion problems around the world with our unique combination of maps, software, GPS and smartphone data and apps," says TTL managing director Maarten van Gool. "Overall, approaches are very fragmented at present but there are big opportunities as more transport authorities look to use the wealth of new data available." Whatever the potential for partnerships with the public sector, the consumer market is still a vital part of TomTom's business and will certainly remain so if its products grab a significant share of the market for smartphone travel information apps. The company's HD Traffic app is free to download, although only offers dynamic navigation to those subscribing to its use with TomTom sat nav devices. The writing is on the wall for the future, however.
Around 110,000 downloads of HD Traffic have been recorded per quarter over the past year
About 110,000 people have downloaded HD Traffic per quarter over the past year.
"Capabilities and performance possible with HD traffic are growing exponentially.
It is providing a very big source of data for all kinds of applications," says TTL's senior manager for intelligent transport systems Carlo van de Weijer. "One thing we are pressing on industry and government officials is that traffic management will become more of a self regulated system of well informed individuals. Authorities will be able to access floating car data more and use devices to direct people accordingly.
"The platform consumers use is no longer our only main concern. Yes we would like a TomTom navigation system in every car, but added value comes from the traffic information system and there is a very good market for providing this to personal devices, including smartphones."