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Weekly Brief: Google to add real-time satellite imaging to Google Maps

Google makes a $500-million acquisition for satellite imaging, as Toyota rolls out a new telematics service in Japan and BMW expands its telematics offerings in South Africa. Andrew Tolve reports.

In this week’s Brief: Google, Skybox Imaging, U.S. Department of Commerce, Nokia HERE, Medio Systems, Toyota, Vodafone, Cobra, BMW South Africa, Sharp, AOL, TomTom and MapQuest.

The mapping industry got a jolt last week when Google announced that it had purchased startup Skybox Imaging for $500 million. The acquisition has the potential to completely redefine expectations for online maps and to fundamentally alter how Google Maps operates, with every city, street, even individual home or business viewable in real-time with a crystal clear image from outer space.

Has your teenage son taken your Porsche out for a joyride? Check your driveway on Google Maps and see. Want to know if Apple is about to ship a new iPhone? Hop on Google Maps and take a look at its Foxconn factory for signs of increased truck traffic. The applications are virtually limitless.

Granted, the satellite imagery from Skybox won’t be integrated overnight. Google says it hopes to have a steady stream of real time imagery available by 2018, when Skybox has launched its full fleet of 24 satellites into orbit. The U.S. Department of Commerce last week announced that commercial satellites can trade high resolution imagery of “manholes and mailboxes,” meaning that Google is legally in the clear.

Sticking on the map front, Nokia HERE announced plans to acquire Medio Systems, a pioneer in real-time predictive analytics, with the intention of creating contextual maps and predictive location services; for example, delivering individual restaurant recommendations to someone ready for lunch or giving drivers routes that match their driving style based on real-time conditions. Details of the deal remain undisclosed, although HERE hopes it to be final by July 2014.

In other news, Toyota announced that it will roll out a new telematics service, “T-Connect,” in Japan this summer, along with compatible navigation systems and a smartphone app. T-Connect improves on Toyota’s current “G-BOOK” service with the ability for users to download third-party apps to the car’s navigation system and an interactive voice response service called “Agent” that handles queries about locations and news and can provide vehicle usage support. In addition, Agent provides a predictive information service using data from user route history to predict the car's destination and provide voice guidance on relevant traffic accidents, congestion, weather and road surface conditions en route.

Vodafone published its decision to make a voluntary public takeover offer of stolen vehicle tracking specialist Cobra. Vodafone says its intention is to create a new global provider of connected car services that can offer Vodafone’s automotive and insurance customers a full range of telematics services. Vodafone’s offer values Cobra at €145 million.

BMW took ConnectedDrive live in South Africa. All BMW models are to be fitted with a built-in SIM card as standard from July and August 2014 production. ConnectDrive will offer South African BMW customers with precise vehicle location and detection of accident severity, constant monitoring of a vehicle’s service data, from fluid levels to brake pads, and a large suite of online apps for infotainment, among other features.

Japanese company Sharp unveiled a Free-Form Display, a digital instrument panel that can conform to whatever shape the auto manufacturer desires. Conventional displays are rectangular because they require a minimal width in order to accommodate the drive circuit around the perimeter of the screen’s display area. With the Free-Form Display, the drive circuit’s function is dispersed throughout the pixels on the display area. Sharp says Free-Form Display will enter mass-production stage soon.

Finally, AOL replaced Nokia HERE with TomTom to power its core mapping services for AOL’s MapQuest. MapQuest users will now have access to TomTom’s digital map database across all digital platforms, including MapQuest.com and its smartphone and tablet iOS and Android apps.

“Every day, millions of people depend on MapQuest for maps and driving directions to find their way,” said Brian McMahon, general manager, MapQuest. “By extending TomTom’s mapping expertise across our platforms globally, we are continuing our commitment to provide MapQuest users with a best-in-breed mapping experience.”

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular TU contributor.

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