Fresh, scalable, flexible and futureproof — TomTom Orbis Maps is the new standard in mapmaking
Editorial team·Feb 07, 2024

Fresh, scalable, flexible and futureproof — TomTom Orbis Maps is the new standard in mapmaking

Editorial team
TomTom Blog
Feb 07, 2024 · 6 min read
How TomTom Orbis Maps Is Setting a New Standard in Mapmaking | TomTom Newsroom

Standards are everything in business. They’re the rules that help our world work efficiently and cooperatively. Without them, individual countries could have tens of time zones, plug-and-play computer hardware wouldn’t exist and all our phones would have different charging connectors. So, it’s surprising to learn that some industries still lack crucial standardization to make everything work well together and promote interoperability and innovation. The commercial mapmaking and location tech industry is one such industry.

The pains of no standard interoperability

High-level advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are a good example of the pains of working with non-standard, incompatible map data, Michael Harrell, TomTom’s SVP Maps Engineering, explains.

“Any automaker building high-level ADAS in their vehicles has to choose a map to make it work optimally, that’s a big decision” Harrell says. “And the map they choose directly influences what’s going to be possible with their ADAS products and how good they’re going to be.”

Unfortunately, choices and their flexibility are limited. Open data is plentiful, but it often doesn’t come with the automotive-grade quality needed for ADAS. Even if it did, carmakers don’t have the resources or expertise to build their own map, so they must seek proprietary options, Harrell adds.

Proprietary maps do come with much-needed quality and reliability, but they also come with the huge sacrifice of not being able to combine useful data from other ecosystems, providers and open sources. As a result, the map will never be as rich as it could be for their specific use case.

“In the case of ADAS, the carmaker is directly bound by the decision making of the mapmaker — what features they prioritize to map and the geographies they decide to map,” Harrell says. “An auto company’s ability to innovate and add new features to their ADAS is stifled by the map and that should never be the case.”

Being bound by the map could mean that ADAS features would only work in certain regions, or it would make a global rollout of the tech impossible. And if the carmaker ever wants to move to another map supplier, they would have to undertake an inordinate amount of technical work to pull data from their old map and match it to the new one. “That kinds of thing could take five years or more,” Harrell exclaims.

Companies experience these kinds of pains more often than they should — they need better maps.

An image showing the improved quality of TomTom's Orbis Map. It's richer in detail, accuracy and coverage.Blending open and proprietary data, TomTom Orbis Maps is highly accurate and incredibly detailed.

The route to the best map

Everyone has a different definition of what makes a map better than another. One organization may favor topographical detail while another may value data on restaurants, their opening times and their entry points. The carmaker building ADAS tech in the example above would prioritize information about roads, their surfaces, the number of lanes, direction of travel, speed limit and so on.

Regardless of the map’s specific use, though, it’s universally agreed that great maps are easy to use, rich in detail and as up to date as possible. For centuries, maps have been making lives easier, and we should endeavor to keep it that way.

Harold Goddijn, TomTom CEO, asserts that won’t be easy, though. “The demand for map content, accuracy and freshness is such that no company alone can meet the future requirements of this industry,” he says. The industry needs a new approach.

The solution? “Standardized, interoperable map data, a new standard in mapmaking” Harrell says.

Making the best maps ever: Collaboration and standardization

Harrell elaborates on the case for collaborative, standardized mapmaking.

"We need to move away from siloed mapmaking practices and embrace a unified, collaborative approach to keep pace with the advancing landscape of technology and consumer expectations," he says.

To make that happen, TomTom has taken a central role in the open map data project, the Overture Foundation, to create and define a new open map standard, one tailored for global, big tech applications.

[Read:] Learn how TomTom is standardizing road network data for the Overture Foundation.

“Large companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Meta are embracing this standard. Adoption is spreading to carmakers, application developers and other big tech companies, demonstrating its value and how needed it is,” Goddijn says.

Increased Adoption brings together more data, from more sources, in a format that makes sense to everyone — leading to fresher, more accurate maps, which in turn help attract more users.

Being built on its new open standard allows anyone to easily blend their own data with the proprietary and open data they need to make the best map for their use case — making the map highly flexible and something that can be truly owned. No longer will the map bind its users to its limitations in data, freshness and structure.

What’s more, those innovating and building with TomTom Orbis Maps won’t have to worry that at some point in the future, they’ll have to pull all their data out, migrate to a new map and start all over again. With standardized data, they can take what they need and blend it to their map stack without having to rebuild the whole thing.

The future of mapmaking lies in collaboration, requiring a new standard that fosters cooperation and innovation.

Michael Harrell

TomTom SVP Maps Engineering

The power of the standard

“Think of it like this: if our PC or Mac, or iPhone or Android device, couldn’t talk to each other or exchange data and information — as is the case with these map data and geospatial systems — innovation would be stifled because getting everything to work would be so complicated and time consuming,” Harrell says.

“A lack of interoperability, a lack of standardization, inhibits innovation more than anything else in our industry, because once you’re tied to one map, you can’t benefit from innovations and growth in other areas and apply it to your own use case. You’re constrained to what’s possible in your relatively speaking, smaller, isolated world.”

TomTom Orbis Map layers, including radar, lidar, routing, traffic lights, hazards, lane map, and base map.

TomTom, with Orbis Maps, is the first global mapmaker to build its map stack on an open standard and bring the commercial location tech industry a much-needed universal mapmaking standard. In doing so, everyone in the tech world now can blend their own data with masses of open data and TomTom’s storied proprietary location data easily and simply — and jump on an expressway to innovation.

"TomTom Orbis Maps represents the next chapter in mapmaking, advocating for real-time collaboration and data sharing. This is pivotal in driving the industry towards a more unified and standardized approach — one that produces better maps that are easy to work with and updated in real time,” Harrell adds.

The benefits of working with TomTom Orbis Maps, built on the Overture Foundation's open mapping standard

TomTom Orbis Maps visual demo in Unity.
  • Scalable: Standardizing data globally makes it easy to expand coverage and enter new markets.

  • Unprecedented detail: TomTom Orbis Maps is built on masses of open and proprietary data.

  • Access to the fastest growing map: All that data is constantly growing and being added to the map.

  • Flexibility: The open standard allows users to add, remove, and blend data as they need.

The future of commercial mapmaking

While they’re not the most exciting thing in the world of tech, standards matter. Standards are what allow us to plug our phones into any USB-C charger and charge them safely. Standards are what make sure safety equipment is fit for purpose. Standards are what allow us to seamlessly share music across the internet. Standards bring order. Standards are what allow us to do amazing things by collaborating around a common understanding.

When an orchestra is all playing from the same sheet music guided by an expert conductor, symphonies are created. In the context of mapmaking and location technologies, standardization brings enhanced accuracy, freshness and detail — innovation and customer satisfaction will skyrocket. Harmony.

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