A recent article published in the Opinions section of La Tribune, “HERE: after the buyout, the challenges” provides some interesting observations on the battle over maps for connected and self-driving vehicles. The author is absolutely correct that this is a highly competitive market, and that the winners are still undecided.
Yet, in discussing the competitive threats faced by HERE, this article neglects to mention a fundamental reason why we are being acquired by the consortium of German automakers in the first place: our advantage is that we are not Google.
Our approach is profoundly different. As the only pure location company with global scale, we build maps to be the best for their stated purpose. Leading automobile brands trust us for driving-specific maps. This was evidenced by the Frankfurt motor show last month, where we were running in 49 of the 54 new commercial cars launched. Garmin, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and SAP, to name a few, also choose our maps.
But why, when others are ‘free’? When we talk to our customers, we offer something – an asset, a map, a platform, service, or application – that helps them build their business. Nothing is free. The apparent gratuity of some offers is, in reality, paid for through the monetization of users by indirect means. Our major customers prefer to retain control of the user experience, in accordance with their product and brand strategy.
Google’s strong position in consumer maps is not disputed, and it is clear they are eyeing the automotive space with great interest. Its ambitions most certainly go beyond projecting a smartphone onto a car’s dashboard navigation system. But does it really have the best representation of the physical world? We would argue that this misses the point. The world changes in millions of ways every day, which is why the best representation will be the one that can evolve to mirror those changes as they happen. And no-one can do that yet.
As we see it, the main battleground will be around harnessing the data generated by a vehicle’s on board sensors and road infrastructure, such as traffic lights. The map is no longer an imprint of the world frozen in time, but is becoming a conduit for the dynamic data generated by vehicles, people and businesses and a means for us to better understand our environment and react to it.
The benefits of this kind of map will be life-changing. A car’s camera and radar can’t see through a car or around a bend or building. And even without obstruction, the range of those sensors is limited to 100-200 meters at best. You need a much longer electronic horizon to make the right decisions in real-time. An airbag deploying 500 meters ahead? That’s quite likely to be an accident, which you can be routed around. Tires slipping on a warm day? Perhaps heavy water build-up or a spill that other cars should be warned about, so they can slow down when approaching the area.
In the automotive sector, there isn’t a single vehicle brand that says they can build this kind of map on their own for the whole planet. There is a general awareness they need to work with partners such as HERE and need to work together as an industry. Demonstrative of that is the industry-wide discussion that started this summer around a global standard for how in-vehicle sensor data is transmitted to a location cloud.
But when the technicalities are worked out, the question then is who can serve as the trusted custodian of that data on behalf of the many? Who is it that can aggregate the data, make sense of it and help carmakers or an IT company build services with it that benefit their business?
This is, of course, the role that our future backers – Audi, BMW and Daimler – see for HERE. In acquiring us, while keeping us independent and open, they are effectively securing the map for the benefit of all who need it today and in the future. We’re already several years down the road in building this map and the industrial machinery behind it, but it’s a project that will need major sustained investment over many years into the future too, which few in our industry can guarantee. Our new backers know too that a map fuelled by data will not amount to much if you aren’t attracting others to participate, which means we will be open, accessible and focused on building the map to be the best map – no strings attached.
Done right, this dynamic, live map will be a powerful asset bringing tremendous value to those who use it. And that is a map worth paying for.
Bruno Bourguet is senior vice-president, sales and business development, at HERE. This article originally appeared in French at La Tribune.