Testing for that one tough call

IVU in position for sled testing

TRL is setting procedures for testing eCall vehicle emergency call systems for their ability to withstand the extreme conditions of vehicles in collision.

In two years, with some exceptions including the UK, most of Europe will see the full implementation of the pan-European eCall emergency notification system, where all new cars introduced into the market will need to be fitted with a certified in-vehicle unit (IVU), a tough call for vehicle manufacturers and the equipment suppliers.

In order to be able to supply equipment into the market, sub-system manufacturers will need to meet stringent test requirements as defined by the European Commission and developed by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).

What is eCall?

eCall is an automatic emergency notification process covering the whole of the continent, where Public Service Access Points (PSAPs) receive automatic calls to the international 112 emergency number from in-vehicle systems that detect a collision. A voice call is opened with the PSAP, whose operators assess the seriousness and despatch emergency services as appropriate.

The telematics and sensor system inside the vehicle detects a collision through g-forces and air bag deployments and transmits parametric data to the PSAP including GPS position. The intent is to facilitate faster despatching of rescue teams to remote locations and therefore save lives. It is estimated that the deployment of eCall will result in a 4% reduction in fatalities, equating to more than 1100 lives.

Extreme conditions

The IVU has an interesting and mostly uneventful lifecycle. Most IVUs in most vehicles will never see active service, but for those that are called into service, they need to do so under the most extreme environmental conditions, which is why TRL was asked by the EC to develop the type approval test procedures.

These test procedures were developed based on an understanding of the forces that are present in a collision and the functions that the IVU has to perform after that collision. TRL therefore experimented using twelve units built for the test procedure and including a telematics control module with printed circuit boards and GSM and GNSS modules as well as a SIM card and its holder and other electronic components.

These units were then subject to TRL’s in-house high-energy sled test using a bungee propulsion system and stopping systems that can subject the test samples to deceleration levels of over 100g to assess the units’ mechanical resistance to severe crash energies.

After the sled test, the units were inspected and functionally tested to assess their usability, including automatic call triggering, IVU self-test and audio equipment for the open channel voice call with the PSAP.

Commenting on the results of the experiments, TRL’s Senior Vehicle Safety Researcher, Matthias Seidl told us, “These enabled us to develop stringent, but practical, test procedures that ensure poor system designs, which could jeopardise the safety of road users, will not be allowed onto the European market.”

Global extension

The work being done by TRL could be used for other emergency call systems around the world. Similar projects are being undertaken in South America, China and the Russian Customs Union area. The Russian ERA-GLONASS system uses a similar platform and there is some harmonisation with eCall in terms of communication standards but not type approval.

When asked whether the work being done by TRL on eCall will have extended influence on ERA-GLONASS and beyond, Siedl told us that the suggested European standards have also been proposed to the United Nations working group on automatic emergency call systems.

“The UNECE working group is chaired by the Russian Federation and is working towards harmonised type-approval requirements across all participating nations of the UN 1958 Agreement,” he said.

Jonathan Newell

Jonathan Newell

Jonathan Newell is a graduate of Loughborough University and has three decades of experience in engineering as well as broadcast and technical journalism.
Jonathan Newell

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About Jonathan Newell

Jonathan Newell is a graduate of Loughborough University and has three decades of experience in engineering as well as broadcast and technical journalism.

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