Statistics from the World Health Organisation suggest that a fatality is caused by a road accident every 25 seconds, and latest figures from the European Commission Directorate General for Mobility and Transport shows there are 28,000 fatalities on European roads over the course of a year. In a bid to reduce this number and improve road safety across the region, the European Commission is undergoing a rigorous programme between 2011 and 2020, part of which is eCall. eCall automatically alerts the emergency services to road accidents without the driver needing to do anything manually and is predicted to reduce the time it takes emergency services to arrive on the scene by 50-60%.The technology will be mandatory for every new car in Europe as of April 2018 and is expected to reduce the number of fatalities on European roads by up to 2,500 each year.
eCall transmits information like GPS location, number of passengers, chassis number and direction of travel from on-board systems to European emergency number 112 as soon as an accident occurs. Crucially, it does so automatically without the need to be manually activated by the driver, essential in particularly serious accidents where passengers may immobilized and unconscious. It can also be activated by the driver manually via an emergency button, for instance, if they have suddenly take ill. This not only alerts the emergency service to accidents / potential incidents in even the most remote places, but also provides them with all the information they need to ensure they have the right resources to deliver the necessary care before they arrive on the scene.
The technology operates using systems installed into cars in the manufacturing process, relying on chip technology developed by companies like NXP. Data is transmitted via an internal SIM card over cellular networks.
The critical nature of the technology has lead manufacturers to turn to established and reliable providers to implement eCall. IBM is already emerging a one of the partners of choice with its software being used for the transmission and analysis of data. “eCall is at the heart of our strategy: innovation based on Big Data, Analytics, and Mobile”, says Eric-Mark Huitema, Global Manager Smarter Transportation at IBM. “IBM has always been keen to contribute to projects that have a clear social value.”
IBM is also quick to point out the extended possibilities that could be built on the same technology, particularly for preventing accidents in the first place. For example, opt-in services for preventive maintenance, reporting of potholes in the road to the authorities, or reporting of potentially hazardous traffic situations, such as schoolchildren crossing the road. Maurice Geraets, Senior Director of New Business at NXP Semiconductors also highlights that cars will be able to communicate with each other over these wireless networks, which can also play a key part in road safety: “Via a WiFi variant for automotive, cars can exchange data, for example about their speed. If a truck is braking 300 meters ahead, a car can anticipate this by reducing speed automatically. This is how smart technology can take us a step further towards improving traffic safety.”
Despite the clear value of eCall and related services, there are clearly challenges in such a wide-spread implementation. The mandatory date has already been pushed back from 2015 to allow manufacturers more time to make changes. Nevertheless, experts expect to see the technology become prevalent well before this date. “Many car manufacturers are already quite busy preparing for eCall,” says Geraets. “We know that several manufacturers are already offering eCall services – and many more will follow well ahead of the 2018 deadline.”
The EU welcomes this development sooner rather than later, as it is also expected to save Europe an estimated 26 billion Euros each year. Geraets explains: “As well as reducing the number of road fatalities, eCall also significantly reduces medical cost and allows traffic to be cleared quicker after an accident eases congestions which has a significant economic burden on countries across the world.”
There will, of course, also be considerable investment from the European Government and countries within the EU to make this system a success. For example, the Ministry of Security and Justice, together with the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, is considering participating in a European project to upgrade the 112-center before the go live date. “The project focuses mainly on improving the ICT infrastructure of European 112-emergency centers,” says Jan van Hattem, Project leader eCall at the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management (‘Rijkswaterstaat’). “European companies and organizations can offer their suggestions for improving eCall or other connected car functionality. For example, by creating a data link between digital consignment notes. The EU project welcomes all ideas and partnerships.” The plan will cost approximately 50 million euros, and the European Parliament is expected to approve it at the start of 2015.
As well as obligations in Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States are all making variants of eCall mandatory in their respective countries. Van Hattem said: “Car manufacturers initially regarded eCall as an obligation to build in units, and therefore, invest money. Now they are starting to see the connected car possibilities of the built-in eCall components, such as WiFi and telephone, and are beginning to incorporate value added services for motorists in their vehicles with manufacturers such as BMW, Volkswagen and Volvo leading the way.”.”
eCall only currently shares information about a vehicle rather than personal information of passengers, and only does so in the case of an accident, meaning privacy issues are limited. There are however aspirations for eCall to be able to transmit personal information like age and blood type of passengers, and some systems can already forward links to an external database with medical or other information. There are also value-added services which manufacturers can offer where personal information could be stored. Huitema explains: “This is not mandatory, but optional. The owner of the car would have the option to activate or de-activate this additional service.”
While drivers do have some control over this via opt-in, it is the responsibility of the manufacturers to implement the correct measures to prevent data theft and or tracking. This can offer peace of mind to drivers and enable them to take advantage of life-saving and other value-added systems that enhance comfort and safety.