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eCall Rising

Europe's Automated Emergency Response

Peter Gutierrez
Despite the work of the harmonized eCall European Pilot, which can be said to have already demonstrated the technical feasibility of the eCall concept, the most important remaining barrier to implementation is at the political level.

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eCall is the European Union (EU) initiative aimed at reducing road casualties by increasing the speed and efficiency of emergency response. It involves a device installed in cars that will automatically dial the EU’s “112” emergency phone number in the event of a serious road accident.

Key data including time, date, and GNSS coordinates will be sent to the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) and then relayed to the most appropriate emergency service. The eCall is triggered by airbag deployment and impact sensor information.

The European Commission has adopted measures to ensure a fully functional eCall service throughout the EU by 2015. These measures establish, for instance, requirements for PSAPs, EU-wide interoperability, and continuity of the service.

According to a Commission working paper, the price of the in-vehicle system could be anywhere between €50 and €300 euros and would be rolled into the price of the vehicle. Challenges to overcome include human language issues, and of course “the EU problem” – getting everyone to agree and then actually doing it.

Public Not Private
But, wait a minute? Aren’t there already cars on the market that have this kind of built-in system? Didn’t Mercedes-Benz, for example, recently unveil its own in-vehicle emergency call feature? The system notifies a Mercedes-Benz call center when there’s a serious accident, which then contacts the emergency services, transmitting the precise location and other information within minutes.

The company claims the service, now available in nineteen European countries, is completely free of charge, “except for possible mobile phone charges.”

The point here is that the Mercedes-Benz system has to be linked to the driver’s or some one else’s mobile phone when the accident occurs. Other carmakers, such as Alfa Romeo, Porsche, and BMW, offer similar systems, mostly in higher-end luxury models.

Rasmus Lindholm, director of partnership and communications at Brussels-based industry association ERTICO, says, “The Mercedes, Volvo, and other systems are similar to eCall, but they involve a private service. Their emergency message is sent via your cell phone to a private call center and then another message is relayed to the emergency services. They do not provide full coverage across Europe nor the protection of a 112 emergency call.”

Lindholm adds, “eCall is different. It’s a public service, free at the point of use, just like a 112 call. It’s for everyone.”

HeEROic Effort
ERTICO is Europe’s intelligent transportation systems (ITS) organization, and is at the center of the development of eCall for Europe. Founded in 1991, the 100-member group serves as the project coordinator for HeERO, the Harmonized eCall European Pilot program.

Their idea seems to have caught on. Since January 2011, 15 European countries, under the HeERO 1 and HeERO 2 consortia, have been hard at work on the piloting and deployment of eCall: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.

Data from the first round of testing under HeERO 1, which took place in eight pilot sites, is now completed and has been analyzed in terms of 28 key performance indicators. These include length of time for a call to be connected, the success rate for the establishment of voice transmissions, the time taken for the vehicle identification number to be decoded, and length of time for the emergency response center to receive the minimum set of data from the vehicle, including key information such as its location.

eCall in-vehicle systems from a range of suppliers have been used in the tests, and trials with real live PSAPs has been undertaken in several of the pilot countries.

Cross-border interoperability was another key area for testing during 2012. As eCall will be a pan-European system, a central feature is that drivers benefit from the same service no matter where they are in the EU, with any voice or text communications carried out in their own language.

In a word, says the HeERO coordination team, the initial results have been “positive”. Of course, a number of technical issues have been brought to light and they will need to be resolved. But reports delivered at a recent HeERO meeting in Zagreb show that these are not the main barriers to eCall deployment. All of the technical problems identified in the first phase of testing can and will be resolved, they say.

The Only Real Problem
Despite the work of HeERO, which can be said to have already demonstrated the technical feasibility of the eCall concept, the most important remaining barrier to implementation is at the political level.

Although 22 of the 27 EU Member States have signed the eCall “Memorandum of Understanding,” as well as Croatia, Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Turkey, and although work aimed at engaging the support of the remaining Member States is continuing, necessary PSAP upgrades to support the system are in some cases being delayed by political decisions at national level.

“It is evident that a lack of political will in some quarters is slowing progress towards eCall imple-mentation,” wrote one observer. What this means is that national governments are dragging their heels on eCall.

And why are they dragging their heels? Because they can.

In July 2012, a non-binding resolution expressing full support for the implementation of eCall across Europe was approved by an overwhelming majority in the Parliament, demonstrating a clear and strong will for pan-European eCall to be fully implemented in 2015.

So much for non-binding resolutions. What about a binding resolution?

The non-binding resolution calls on the European Commission (EC) to introduce legislation requiring EU Member States to upgrade their emergency response service infrastructure in order to be able to handle eCalls. That’s where eCall becomes mandatory. Member States will have to comply; so, any stalling until then will have been of no benefit to anyone.

Sounds pretty simple. Only the commission hasn’t introduced the legislation yet.

Just one among many who feel the same way, Jacob Bangsgaard is director-general of the International Automobile Association (FIA) Region I, a consumer body representing 106 motoring and touring clubs and their 36 million members from across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In an interview with ERTICO, Bangsgaard said, “It’s now the European Commission’s turn to introduce legislation that will ensure that the emergency service infrastructure of Member States is ready for 2015.”

Indeed, it is up to the EC. And that has got to be making some people nervous.

We only need to go back a few weeks to find a perfect illustration of how the European Commission’s best laid plans can be scuppered once its sister institutions, the EU Parliament and the EU Council, are asked to join the party. For months we kept hearing about the imminent approval of the new EU GNSS Regulation. This is the document that will lay to rest the bickering over who gets to do what in the Galileo program.

Only thing was, and it was only the thing that no one seemed to mention, the regulation is closely tied to the Galileo future budget, which is tied to the commission’s overall budget, which the commission worked out in close consultation with the parliament, which the council had to approve.

Instead, the Council decided the Commission’s budget wasn’t good enough; so, they proposed a new budget, which they’ve now sent back to the parliament, which really liked the old budget and now has to approve the new budget.

And by this time, it didn’t look like the Parliament is in any mood to be friendly. Indeed, on March 13 Parliament overwhelmingly rejected the proposed budget of €960 billion.

The eCall people are hoping the clear and strong will for their program will be matched by a clear and strong willingness by all parties concerned to be agreeable.

A quick review of what the people who should know have been saying about the Commission’s eCall legislation shows some sources were predicting it would be done last December. Others, slightly more realistically, were saying January. Now, ERTICO is saying probably next summer.

“The Commission is in consultation,” says Lindholm. “There’s been a lot of back and forth with the Council.”

More Testing, Broadening Scope
Meanwhile, the real work moves forward. The HeERO Standardization Task Force met several times in 2012 to discuss — you guessed it — standards. Taking into account the results of ongoing testing, it has already proposed 25 changes to the published eCall standards and submitted these to the appropriate bodies.

The Task Force also organized an eCall interoperability testing event last June in the United Kingdom. Participants were able to monitor and assess new in-vehicle systems in conjunction with various PSAP configurations in a realistic testing environment.

All of this testing and assessing has not been confined to EU member and associated states. The Finnish HeERO pilot site, among others, has been working with GLONASS Union, the Russian nonprofit organization tasked with implementing Russia’s own similar emergency call system, “ERA-GLONASS.” Together, they have been testing the cross-border interoperability of the two systems.

With almost 1,400 kilometers (868 miles) of shared border with Russia, Finland is the ideal place to carry out such testing. In 2012, three Russian in-vehicle systems were tested in Finland. This year, Finnish systems will be tested in Russia, while the Russian systems will also be tested in other EU countries.

ERTICO, along with ITS Russia and GLONASS Union, has, for the last two years, been co-chairing the eCall/ERA-GLONASS Working Group. Its aim is the alignment of ERA-GLONASS and eCall standards and technical requirements, as well as the schedule for implementation.

Lindholm, who has been working closely with the Russians, explains the goal: “This means that when the eCall and ERA-GLONASS systems are operational, you should be able to drive anywhere in Europe and across Russia with access to the two emergency call systems.”

Like eCall, ERA-GLONASS will be multiconstellation in design, a point confirmed by the program’s Yaroslav Domaratsky at the ITS World Congress in Vienna last year.

The two systems are not identical. The Russians are looking at other services that could be included. Naturally, in all their presentations, they are linking their system to GLONASS — it’s in the name, ERA-GLONASS – just as the Europeans are linking their system to Galileo, even though eCall doesn’t need Galileo to work.

Speaking at the same event in Vienna, Fiammetta Diani, market development officer at the European GNSS Agency (GSA), reminded everyone, “Galileo will provide accuracy and reliability in all the transport markets, but in the case of emergency rapid assistance, the positioning need is even more critical.”

Further afield, just this past January, ERTICO and partners launched Japan’s first eCall testing facility, aimed at helping Japanese automakers meet the new eCall standards.

Gemalto, a Netherlands-based digital security firm, will provide the testing facility with its machine-to-machine automotive modules and machine identification modules, already compliant with European test cases, to enable communications and GPS positioning for all Japanese trials.

This will be the first eCall facility outside of Europe, allowing Japanese automakers to locally test in-car systems destined for the European market. The FUJITSU TEN and YRP test bed features Japan’s only exclusive eCall 2G cellular network, which simulates European wireless networks.

Full-Court Press
From the EU Emergency Services Workshop held in Riga last April, to the Berlin eCall Days in September and the eCall Technical Workshop in the UK in October, the HeERO initiative has been pulling out all the stops to see to it that eCall lives and breathes and that everyone knows about it. And it has managed to generate some interest.

With its official launch meeting in Madrid, Spain, on January 14, HeERO 2 brings the number of countries participating in the pilot trials up to 15, and ERTICO recently announced that five associated partner countries will participate at their own expense, while another five new countries are hoping to join in the first quarter of 2013.

Looking farther into the year, plans are in place to set up an eCall certification body, with many stakeholders said to have registered interest.

2013 will be the final year of the HeERO 1 initiative. HeERO 2 will run for two more years, extending the trials into the new pilot countries while widening the scope to include new vehicles such as large goods vehicles and powered two-wheeled vehicles. Thus, the two HeEROs will run in parallel throughout 2013 until the big HeERO Conference in Bucharest in November, where final results of the one and preliminary results of other will be presented.

By then, all are hoping that the famous eCall legislation will have made its way through the obstacle course that the EU institutions comprise, forcing the remaining nay-sayers to get on board and paving the way for a system that might just be worth its weight, and the wait, in saved lives.

Copyright © 2017 Gibbons Media & Research LLC, all rights reserved.

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