Emergency Assistance

In several studies, personal safety has been shown to be the mobile location service application users in North America are most interested in. Emergency services will be coordinated either directly by public safety answering points (PSAP) or indirectly by roadside assistance providers in conjunction with a PSAP if necessary. Mobile operators with operations in the United States are required by the FCC to provide location data with every emergency call made on their network.

Emergency calls made from a mobile phone would typically be life threatening as opposed to calls from an in-vehicle unit, which could range from a less serious incident, such as a flat tire, to a serious accident. Accordingly, emergency calls from a mobile phone go directly to a government-operated PSAP. Most auto manufacturers have a roadside assistance partner, with whom they bundle roadside assistance service with new vehicles. There is also after-market roadside assistance available directly from companies such as American Automobile Association and Europe Assist. The roadside assistance companies operate call centers that specialize in handling various emergency calls and dispatching the necessary services, whether it is a towing service or an ambulance.

If you've been in an accident, had a flat tire, or run out of gas in a remote area without a cell phone, you know that it can be difficult to call the roadside assistance company's toll-free number to get help. If the accident is serious enough, you might not be conscious and are dependent on another motorist seeing the accident and calling it in. Seconds can be crucial in a life-or-death situation. Wouldn't a better solution be to have the roadside assistance provider automatically notified in an accident and provided with necessary details, such as vehicle position and system status? Or at least provide the driver with a built-in interface to get help without having to find a pay phone or their mobile phone? This is the concept behind systems like OnStar's Onboard.

The OnStar Onboard system includes a three-button interface, a GPS receiver, a cellular chipset, and audio input/output capabilities. The system has a status light that is green when the system is working and red when there is a problem. While a call is in progress the status light flashes green. The button with the white dot either answers or ends calls. The blue button labeled "On" connects the user to an OnStar advisor for concierge services in the OnStar call center. The button with the red cross on it sends a priority call to an OnStar advisor, who is able to connect the user to the appropriate emergency service center. Since the infrastructure required to service emergency calls is in place, it makes sense for OnStar to offer a variety of additional services such as navigation and concierge services with the same interface.

To deliver services like these requires an expensive infrastructure. Emergency services calls will always require an operator in a call center, but concierge and navigation services can be provided with automated systems that provide a cost savings. These automated systems might be voice based or have graphical user interfaces designed for small mobile devices. In GPRS and 3G mobile networks, the emergency service provider has the advantage of moving information on the data channel rather than the voice channel. Because these networks are packet switched rather than circuit switched, they are always on. This saves valuable time in call set-up and also allows more efficient "pay-per-use" billing methods rather than paying while online, whether you are using the system or not.

Many industry players have an interest in improving the way emergency services are provided, from government agencies to managed health-care providers. All are interested in providing better service and reducing their costs. One such provider working to improve roadside medical assistance with location-based services is Roadside Telematics Corporation. Roadside Telematics is working with the Communications for Coordinated Assistance and Response to Emergencies (ComCARE) alliance to improve the way emergency services are handled (see Figure 11.4). Larry Williams, their CEO, details in the "RoadMedic Emergency Services Application" sidebar how simple mobile location services might be developed today using FM subcarrier networks instead of the cellular networks.

Figure 11.4. Emergency Services ComCARE Alliance. © 2002 Roadside Telematics Corporation.


RoadMedic Emergency Services Application

Distributing Safety & Security Data by FM Sub-Carrier[1]

By Lawrence E. Williams, President & CEO, Roadside Telematics Corporation

Existing Automatic Crash Notification (ACN) technologies are primarily voice-centric notification services based on a cellular network. Emerging second-generation ACN technologies are quickly expanding safety and security capabilities to include sophisticated crash data messaging.

These second-generation ACN systems will provide highly sophisticated real-time crash data such as, (1) the speed of vehicle travel, (2) the direction and point of impact, and (3) vehicle rollover information. Crash victim personal medical information such as blood type, drug allergies, and current medications will be integrated with the crash data to form the automotive equivalent of the airline industry's "black box." Responding emergency personnel will be able to instantly access critical lifesaving information regarding crash occurrence and personal emergency medical information.

As second-generation ACN systems evolve to include automated real-time wireless transmission, questions arise regarding the reliability of data transmission and delivery via a cellular network.

For the most part, issues focus on geographic coverage and delivery costs. In general, cellular network coverage is currently driven by demand flowing from population centers resulting in geographic coverage gaps in rural areas of sparse population. While only 24 percent of crashes occur on rural roads, nearly 59 percent of crash deaths occur on rural roads. Lack of transmission and delivery reliability causes a delay in delivering emergency medical services, which is considered to be one of the factors contributing to the disproportionately high fatality rate for rural crash victims, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Furthermore, when a cellular network achieves broader and more complete coverage, it will be at a very high cost that may prohibit broadcasting and transmitting small amounts of wireless data, such as ACN applications.

Driven by these issues, telematics service providers are now exploring alternatives for the efficient and effective deployment of emerging safety and security data applications. A highly promising broadcast (downlink) alternative, with potential for widespread global acceptance, is the FM subcarrier technology developed by CUE Corporation.

CUE currently utilizes a very extensive FM subcarrier network for the broadcast of real-time traffic information, weather forecasts, emergency weather warnings, and CRM messaging. Utilizing the FM subcarrier frequencies of approximately 600 radio stations in North America, CUE provides substantial coverage of the United States and Canada?up to six times the geographic coverage of any other wireless network in America.

Later this year, CUE will add to its telematics portfolio a unique medical information messaging service called RoadMedic™, providing automated access to vital emergency roadside medical information at the push of a button. This service can be best described as an automated version of medical alert jewelry or emergency medical information cards carried in wallets and purses. RoadMedic will be a logical evolutionary step for CUE to supplement its current real-time traffic distribution service.

This action will mainstream CUE into the safety and security market and will provide a fully thin-client approach, with all telematics subscriber personal medical information entered into the RoadMedic database that is designed to protect subscriber privacy and confidentiality through compliance with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and French and Swiss medical information privacy standards. Given 1 out of 3 victims of serious car crashes are either unconscious or otherwise unable to give fast, accurate personal medical information, RoadMedic will enable emergency personnel to instantly access vital information, thereby reducing the delivery time for crash victim care while improving the quality of care provided.

In the future, RoadMedic will be able to automatically integrate the crash victim personal medical profile with the sophisticated ACN crash data, creating the black box for wireless uplink transmission to E911. This process will offer three key pieces of life-saving information: a crash alert, an exact crash location, and emergency medical information. Emergency personnel will know exactly where to go and what to expect on arrival at the crash scene. Future uplink alternatives to cellular include evolving FM subcarrier two-way technology and emerging satellite communications supporting 9.6 Kbps on the uplink, which is more than adequate for emergency medical information and ACN data.

The historical problem with FM subcarrier data broadcast has been a relatively low data broadcast rate of approximately 8 Kbps. CUE has vigorously addressed this weakness over the past five years through the development of a proprietary technology known as SuperDARC. SuperDARC facilitates data transmission rates of 64 Kbps, more than sufficient for real-time traffic information and personal emergency medical information. SuperDARC makes CUE technology an attractive option for broadcasting data to telematics-equipped emergency response vehicles for several reasons:

  1. Ease of inclusion: Most standard radios today are already capable of handling CUE's wholly voice-based service, which is particularly relevant given the recent "driver distraction" legislative activity aimed at in-vehicle telematics systems. Although a second receiver would need to be built into most existing radios in order to make them CUE-compatible for downloading emergency medical information data to emergency response vehicle navigation units and other telematics devices, there are minimal costs associated with this hardware upgrade, and the radio itself is ubiquitous as far as inclusion in the vehicle is concerned.

  2. Low data transmission costs: Broadcasting data over FM subcarrier frequencies is inexpensive, particularly when compared with the cost of transmitting data over the cellular network.

  3. Global coverage: It is significant that the SuperDARC data protocol is becoming a global standard, particularly when it comes to distributing the service in other countries.

CUE is familiar and comfortable with automotive industry applications. CUE is perhaps the leader in broadcasting real-time traffic information to in-vehicle navigation systems. The company is currently working with BMW, Volvo, Honda, Pioneer, Alpine, Kenwood, Visteon, and Audiovox.

The integration of safety information with telematics will become an important issue. As in-vehicle navigation systems and other telematics devices become widespread, they create the opportunity for revolutionizing emergency medical response and the delivery process. The FM subcarrier will be a logical choice for data distribution of emergency medical information. In fact, it is very possible the FM subcarrier will emerge as a dominant player for the emerging ITS Public Safety System by providing real-time traffic and medical information broadcast services for the ComCARE Alliance, a national coalition whose goal is to promote a comprehensive "end-to-end telematics communications system" to enhance public safety and improve emergency response.


Lawrence E. Williams is the President and CEO of Roadside Telematics Corporation, a leading telematics integration company providing technology for aggregating and integrating telematics subscriber medical information with the emerging E911 (U.S.), E112 (Europe), and E119 (Japan) telematics uniform emergency response systems. The company supplies emergency medical record infrastructure and a medical messaging application, the RoadMedic™ system, to strategic channel partners for delivery to end users through in-vehicle telematics devices, in-dash navigation systems, car radios, handheld receivers, and smart card platforms. For more information, visit www.roadsidetelematics.com.