European Parliament approves eCall connected car platform
The Internet of Things threatens to revolutionise everyday life, embedding and imbuing everyday objects and the world around us with sensors, software and electronics. Through machine-to-machine communication, automation and advanced analytics, we are able to understand and scrutinise our environment and the processes which surround us in ways never conceived. From high level analysis allowing automated condition monitoring of critical engine parts, giving engineers the tools to reduce costly operational downtime to embedding real-time sensors in bridges to predict stresses and flooding. Beyond the Cloud, the Internet of Things brings the internet to the everyday, and there are clear use cases for such technologies in the realm of road safety.
This is where eCall comes in. eCall is a European Commission initiative coming into force on 31 March 2018, making mandatory the deployment of internet-connected sensors into cars that enable emergency services to be immediately contacted and requested automatically after a serious road incident within the European Union. EC VP for Digital, Neelie Kroes, argues “EU-wide eCall is a big step forward for road safety. When you need emergency support it’s much better to be connected than to be alone.” eCall will drastically cut European emergency service response times, even in cases where passengers are unable to speak through injury, by sending a Minimum Set of Data (MSD), including the exact location of the crash site.
The deployment of eCall is one of most ambitious EU-wide programs since the 2007 enlargement, rolling out implementation of the eCall platform to some 230 million cars and 33 million trucks in the European Union. Implementation of eCall at a European level (including Norway, Switzerland etc) however benefits consumers and industry through reducing costs due to economies of scale, reducing the installation cost to as little as €100. The basic pan-European eCall service will be free at the point of use for equipped vehicles. It is likely that the eCall technology platform (i.e., positioning, processing and communication modules) will be exploited commercially too, for stolen vehicle tracking, dynamic insurance schemes, eTolling and emerging forms of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) road safety systems. eCall will be based upon a standardised platform, one system for the entirety of Europe, aimed at enabling both car and telecoms industries a quick roll out and to avoid crippling OEM versioning and patching issues.
In terms of privacy, the basic eCall system has been given the green light by the European Commission on the express condition that firm data protection safeguards are in place and that the sensor-equipped vehicles will not push data to external servers except in the case of a crash, or by the actions of the driver, in order to contact the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) and will lie dormant until that point. The data transmitted to the emergency services, described as MSD, Minimum Set of Data, are those strictly needed by the emergency services to handle the emergency situation. While in normal operation mode the system is not registered to any telecoms network and no mediating parties have access to the MSD that is transmitted to the PSAPs.
Today the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee MEPs voted on and approved eCall pushing forward a life-saving Internet of Things technology that will significantly improve European road safety. The UK Government however, has not followed suit, whilst welcoming the implementation in other member states, feels that “it is not cost-effective … given the increasing responsiveness of our road network, we feel that smart motorways do the same thing,” remarked Minister Perry on behalf of the Department of Transport. Whilst it can be argued that ‘Smart Motorways’ are far from a worthy substitute to connected cars & V2V/V2I systems, the UK’s criticism belies a certain caution with regards to green-lighting large and costly IT projects. Only time will tell whether the UK Govt’s decision has left those drivers not on Britain’s Smart Motorways in the lurch.