Engineering company Atkins is to use traffic data collected from TomTom satellite navigation devices in order to plan road improvements.
One of the services that the company offers is to improve road performance for local authorities. In order to analyse traffic patterns, Atkins currently sends a car with a GPS tracker on repeated journeys down the road in question.
This week, the company announced an agreement with the Dutch satnav vendor that will allow it to use aggregated journey data collected from TomTom customers’ devices, dating back to 2008.
Using the TomTom data will drastically cut the cost of analysing road performance, Philip Mendelsohn, data manager at Atkins Transportation told Information Age today.
There are, for example, 12 possible ways to drive through a four-way junction. Sending a driver through the junction enough times to have a sufficient sample of data would be highly time consuming.
"With TomTom we get to see a period over which vehicles have been driven through that junction," Mendelsohn says. "We get 100 or 1000 samples."
The company will also use the data to perform ‘before and after’ analyses of road improvement projects.
Customers often ask Atkins to analyse the impact of road improvement jobs, Mendelsohn explained, "but they won’t have any ‘before’ data. This means that for the first time, you can do the ‘before’ study afterwards.”
Mendelsohn said that TomTom delivers the data in a spreadsheet format that is "very amenable to the sort of thing we want to do".
He did not disclose how much Atkins is paying for the data. “The pricing is complex and to a certain extent we’re still exploring the value with each other,” he said. “TomTom and ourselves have different views and we’ve had some robust discussions about it. But we’ve got to a point where we are buying data.”
Earlier this year, TomTom was cleared in its native Netherlands of selling private customer data to police. Dutch police authorities had bought data from TomTom in order to plan speed cameras, prompting complaints on privacy grounds.
After an external investigation, TomTom said "the data we collect is anonymous and aggregated and we then sell it to governments, which gives them more up-to-date information about the road and allows them plan new roads and improve traffic flow".
"We want to reassure all our customers that we use data to profile roads and traffic, and not individual people", TomTom board member Alain De Taeye said at the time.