Q&A: A TomTom Engineering VP on new Orbis Maps, real-time mapping and the future
Editorial team·Jan 24, 2023

Q&A: A TomTom Engineering VP on new Orbis Maps, real-time mapping and the future

Editorial team
TomTom Blog
Jan 24, 2023 · 4 min read
Q&A: VP Engineering on Maps Platform | TomTom Newsroom

In November last year, TomTom announced its new geospatial data ecosystem, the TomTom Orbis Maps. It’s generated significant buzz, both inside and outside TomTom Towers. But what's all the fuss about? We’re asking some fellow TomTom’ers for their take on it all.

In the last Q&A, we heard from Eric Bowman, TomTom’s Chief Technical Officer. If you want to read what he had to say, check it out here. Given that TomTom is a tech company, starting with the CTO was as good an idea as any, and in this episode, we’re continuing with that theme and hearing from Yu Guo, one of TomTom’s VPs of engineering.

The interview: Yu Guo on TomTom’s new Orbis Maps

TomTom Editorial (TTE): Who are you and what do you do at TomTom? What does your job involve?

Yu Guo (YG): I am in the VP of engineering for two product units: Automation, which is where we work on automated map feature production and TTI, traffic and travel information.

I lead engineering teams that ingest a variety of data sources and produce map features such as speed limits, lane count and traffic patterns.

Yu Guo, one of TomTom's VPs of Engineering. In her day job, Guo oversees two product units, automation and traffic and travel information.TTE: What’s your background, what were you doing before TomTom?

YG: I have a PhD in biostatistics from Harvard University and worked a number of years in the tech industry building data-oriented systems for a variety of applications.

Before TomTom, I worked on the West Coast in the US for companies like Uber, Airbnb and Microsoft leading engineering and data science teams. I also worked for two self-driving companies — Uber ATG, which was then acquired by Aurora.

TTE: What’s the state of digital mapmaking today?

YG: The industry of digital map making is going through an industry shift, moving to an approach that is centered around data, fast iteration and short feedback loops.

TTE: What will this space look like in the future?

YG: With the automotive industry shifting to collecting and sharing more types of sensor data, there’s a need to derive actionable information from across many sensor types and many individual observations.

Such insights can help make driving and transportations of goods safer, more comfortable and more fuel efficient. It can help lower emissions, too.

With more regulation on data governance and protection of user privacy, the industry also needs to come up with approaches that anonymize data and share only what’s necessary to derive actionable information for end users. We also need to balance our need to be able to customize systems for convenience through data, and the need for user privacy and data security.

TTE: What role does TomTom play in the world of global mapmaking right now? How do you see that position evolving with this announcement?

YG: TomTom can lead the industry with decades of deep domain expertise, understanding of end customer needs and their preferred mode of working. Combined with thought leadership in how software-based, data centric map making can provide fresher and actionable content that matters to the end user, TomTom’s going to play an even more central role in mapmaking in the future.

According to Yu Guo, the future of mapmaking will rely more heavily on sensor data. With sensor data, TomTom could redraw maps every day, if it wanted to.TTE: Will we ever see a truly real-time map, one which can reflect changes in reality as soon as they’re spotted? 

YG: It depends on how “as soon as” is measured.

Under the protection of user data, we will pay attention to how data is used and aggregated to anonymize and protect privacy – we will then provide fresh content as needed. There are also environment considerations – fresher data usually requires more computer power and storage cost. We need to ask when is it, and when is it not, appropriate to provide real-time data?

[Editor: Advanced warnings about hazards in the road ahead of bad weather need to be constantly updated and as real-time as possible. But other map features, such as administrative borders and addresses don't, as they rarely change.]

The map content will work with the sensor capabilities on the vehicle to complement each other. We would need to make the sensible tradeoffs when defining how fresh is fresh enough.

TTE: What are the technical and practical limitations of building such a map? 

YG: Protecting data security and privacy is a top consideration. Highly available, real-time systems are typically expensive to build, operate and maintain.

The complexity of the system needs to be balanced between technological and regulatory advances to bring the right balance.

TTE: What do you think the world of mapping will look like in the next decade? Or 20 years?

YG: More modality of data will be increasingly pervasive, making sense of it to provide actionable location information to users will be the key challenge.

In 20 years, though, it’s hard to say. Technology shifts so fast nowadays that it’s truly impossible to predict the future.

Keep your eyes out on the TomTom Newsroom for the next Q&A. We've still got EV experts, community mapping boffins and more to come.

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