Sunday, March 18, 2012

TomTom Aims at Self-Driving Cars

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Ever since the Jetsons first rode around in their very own self-driving car in the 60s, we have been working towards making transportation safer and easier. In the last couple of years in particular, great leaps have been made in the realm of self-driving cars with several companies already testing vehicles on closed tracks. But, are self-driving cars really going to happen? Dutch navigation company TomTom certainly thinks so, and it wants in.

Earlier this week TomTom CEO Harold Goddijn told Reuters that TomTom’s goal is to become the main provider of technology for self-driving cars in the future. That’s a pretty lofty goal for a company which, for the last seven years, has posted very little profit for an international corporation. But, as one of the three largest digital mapping companies in the world—the others being Google and Nokia’s HERE Maps—TomTom certainly has my vote.

Of the three, TomTom is the only one who offers some features like communication between cars on the road to detect traffic and incorporating weather into routing. Goddjin said he thought that TomTom is one of the few companies who will be able to provide the speed and accuracy that self-driving cars will need.

“We are seen by our customers as the guys with the right ideas on how you do those things,” Goddijn told Reuters in an interview. TomTom has had great success in the past in securing deals with several car companies to include its mapping and technology inside vehicles. Current deals include companies like Kia, Hyundai, Fiat and Volkswagen.

TomTom has had an impressive comeback since experiencing a hefty downward in the early 2000s, mostly due to overpaying for mapping company TeleAtlas which overstretched the company when automotive GPS units were falling in popularity. Smartphones have—and continue—to cut into the automotive GPS market as well, although TomTom seems to have found a way around that with a recent partnership to provide maps to Apple for the iPhone 6.

To further boost growth, TomTom has also expanded the company to offer additional products like fitness watches, telematics services and, following in Garmin’s footsteps, even an action camera which was debuted last month.

Personally I think that if I was going to list out companies I would trust with mapping a self-driving car, TomTom would be pretty high up on that list. Only time will tell whether or not TomTom can pull it off, but it looks like the company has got its foot pretty solidly in the door between GPS and mapping technologies, and partnerships with automotive makers.

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