Noted location and mapping service TomTom has acquired Autonomos, a Berlin-based autonomous driving startup. TomTom has been expanding its range of activities for several years, not only in the autonomous vehicle area, but also in a variety of other technologies related to geolocation. These have included navigation devices, smart watches and cameras for consumers. But the Autonomos acquisition shows that the company is becoming increasingly serious about the coming range of self-driving vehicles.
Autonomos is company that provides R&D consultancy services for automated vehicle assistance systems. Its capabilities include a full demonstration-level autonomous driving software stack, 3D sensor technology, and digital image processing.
The company was established in 2012 as a spin-off from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) research project entitled “AutoNOMOS Labs,” at the Freie Universitaet in Berlin. Its prototype “MadeInGermany” vehicle has been officially testing autonomous driving on the streets of Berlin since 2011. The company participated in the 2400 km automated driving challenge in Mexico, operating in cooperation with its research partner, the Freia Universitat Berlin. Its vehicle drove about 2,250 km of highways and 150 km through cities, traversing difficult road conditions in which the autonomous vehicle demonstrated its capabilities and performed well.
Addition of Autonomos is expected to advance TomTom’s map-based products for autonomous driving. Its in-house autonomous driving stack will enable TomTom to serve customers with products such as its HD map, RoadDNA localization technology, as well as its navigation, traffic and other cloud services.
“This is an important development for TomTom as it will help us to continue to strengthen our capabilities for the future of driving and expand our knowledge and expertise,” says Harold Goddijn, CEO and co-founder of TomTom in the press release. “With this deal we are further positioning ourselves as one of the leaders in autonomous driving”.
There are a number of interesting points to this announcement. It is yet another acquisition of an AI startup to obtaining research and talent. It also demonstrates how autonomous driving is, and autonomous vehicles are, becoming increasingly important to every company within the vehicle and transportation industries. We have seen the high-profile efforts of Uber, Tesla, Apple and the major automobile companies to gain a foothold in this area.
As self-driving automobiles and transportation become ever closer, it is clear that anyone who wishes to participate in the vehicle industry in future will need to have access to this technology, and to have qualified staff capable of innovating in this area. The data sciences required by autonomous vehicle are of a different caliber from those required by internal analytic functions within a corporation; a wider variety of skills and an emphasis upon machine learning and deep learning techniques is absolutely critical. The skills are expected to become increasingly difficult to find outside of acquisition of startups such as this one.
Another factor to look at in this acquisition is that TomTom has been moving gradually beyond mapping and automobile applications into a variety of other product areas that involve knowledge of location. These include health monitoring products. As digitization proceeds, it becomes increasingly clear that acquiring advanced skills in one area is easily translatable into another. Autonomos itself has moved into a smart stereo camera to aid its automotive techniques; this camera can be used for other purposes and can be linked to other initiatives in a geolocation portfolio. As TomTom continues to build out additional products based upon its mapping and geolocation capabilities, Autonomos is likely to play a significant role, not only in the products it has produced, but also through its 20 AI employees who will now be available for the products within TomTom’s universe.
For companies, it is important to take note that acquisitions like this point to the need to be aware of this expanding environment. In addition to AI in analytics processes and in general business process automation, AI will continue to spread out into unforeseeable new areas. Every company is seeking an innovation that will provide an ultimate advantage within their niche; advent of a truly autonomous process, particularly related to difficult control issues in physical goods movement, manufacturing, or transportation is likely to become increasingly important.