TRL’s mission takes the drama out of an eCall

TRL’s mission takes the drama out of an eCall

Since May we’ve known that eCall is coming in just over two years and there can be few paths more beaten by carmakers and OEM suppliers than to the door of the organisation tasked to assess just how robust the equipment is going to have to be.

That’s because the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) was commissioned by the European Commission (EC) to develop draft proposals setting out detailed technical requirements and test procedures for eCall systems. These proposals seek to set minimum standards for eCall systems in Europe ensuring they work as intended, even after a severe collision.

The EC defined the aspects which required further attention in order to define an appropriate set of type-approval requirements and tests as:

  • Resistance of eCall systems to severe crashes (sled test assessment)

·         Full-scale impact test assessments

·         Crash resistance of audio equipment

·         Co-existence of third party services (TPS) with the 112-based in-vehicle systems

·         Automatic triggering mechanism

·         In-vehicle system self-test

·         Privacy and data protection (overview only)

It’s little wonder that TRL was chosen to conduct this work as an independent research, consultancy, testing and certification for all aspects of transport with more than 80 years of knowledge and experience serving 1,000 customers across 145 countries worldwide.

So TU-Automotive beat the same path to TRL’s facility near Bracknell, Berkshire, to speak to Richard Cuerden (below), its chief scientist vehicle safety.

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We’d already been told that 12 telematics units were used for experiments in the dedicated deceleration sled test element and operability verification test procedures measuring mechanical resistance of eCall systems to severe crashes at accelerations up to 100g. These units were designed, produced and provided to TRL by Stadium United Wireless and included the engine control module (ECU), containing the printed circuit board with GSM and GNSS modules, SIM card holder and SIM card, capacitors and other electronic components.

But Cuerden said the challenges began even before test procedures had been chosen. He explained: “The question began with how do you develop type-approval, how do you develop rules and requirements that aren’t design restrictive? That’s really important because you can’t say to the manufacturer the equipment has to be ‘X’ made by ‘Y’ it has to be all about the functionality of that equipment in the vehicle.

“If this was a bit simpler, like we were going to design a new crash test for a vehicle, you’d find the most representative accident configuration and design a test around that. But with eCall the crash can be any crash – a rollover a side impact, a rear-end, you have to cover anything that can happen. At the same time you don’t want to alert the emergency services if you reverse into your gatepost.”

Some assistance was offered by existing EC Regulations Nos. 94 and 95 that cover frontal and side impacts which would automatically activate the eCall technology.

However, these only cover some of the possible collisions as Cuerden explained: “This covered front and side impact but, when you look at the accident data, this really doesn’t cover the high-end crashes where you’d expect people to have a high risk of dying. So then you’re options are then to do a crash test with a whole vehicle but that would be very costly.

“Instead, we went down the route of using the sled test using all the system components and the real challenge we faced has been working with industry, regulators across Europe to ensure that the severity of that sled test was appropriate. You don’t want the severity to be too high in case the equipment is over engineered and you don’t want it too low so that the components could break at low speed crashes.

“Over a number of months we developed from existing crash test data by looking at the worst case with the highest deceleration figures which was with small cars that have the shortest length and highest deceleration in a crash.

“By taking the deceleration profiles of these vehicles we could apply it to the sled and after going to the EU working group we arrived at a figure of between 70-80g.

“It was absolutely critical to get the right components onto the sled test. We weren’t too concerned about the system speakers surviving the test, these would have only been used for someone to speak to the occupants of the car, we needed the microphone to survive so rescue services can hear the occupants.

“The important thing is that the manufacturer’s equipment survives on the sled no matter where the impact comes from. If the airbag deploys that’s a good indication that eCall can be activated and modern cars are pretty good at recording the event they have just experienced and that’s also a good predictor of how severe the accident is.”

While TRL’s initial standards for eCall have been finalised, Cuerden admitted this may not be the end of the line for technological development.

He said: “Firstly, will it be tested by consumer organisations to determine if one system is better than another? Maybe. Then, secondly, will the system still be working when the car is 10-years-old? That’s another question. This is the same issue we have will airbags and the new autonomous emergency braking systems now on cars will they still work even when warning lights are one? From what I’ve seen of manufacturers, they have a high confidence that these systems are going to work for at least 20 years or so.”

With the ever increasing amounts of technology being drafted into new cars, there is also the spectre of future longevity testing of the systems – something like an MOT [Ministry of Transport] for the car’s electronica.

Cuerden said: “There is a big discussion in Europe right now about periodic inspections of cars. The current MOT does not cover off the new systems and in our opinion the road worthiness of cars will have to rise to meet the new technology. Just in the way we seldom see rusty cars on our streets these days we will need to address issues such as whether a vehicle has had a recall. So if the eCall was affected that would need a passport to show the work has been completed satisfactorily.

“Our concern at TRL is whether the vehicle made the emergency call and that the right data was sent off to the emergency services in good time.

“One of my early concerns was that the system might be prone to issuing a lot of superfluous calls but now I’m much less concerned because the thresholds for activation have been set at the right level.”

While it may be a little premature to explore where eCall could go in future even before it has hit European streets, it’ll be a fair bet that some suppliers are already toying with ideas Cuerden is right behind them with his own views.

He told us: “I don’t know where eCall will go in future but I would like to see it become more intelligent. I would want the system in my car to know quite a lot about me and my family so that it can determine there has been a big impact and can learn from the data about previous crashes to determine exactly how severe the accident is.

“The system will know, for example, ages of people in the car and can estimate the sort of injuries likely to have occurred. A younger driver is much more likely to be involved in a crash where the car has been rolled whereas an older driver is more likely to be in an accident where they have pulled out of a side turning.

“We also know that, as we age, the risk of injury increases quite a lot. The characteristics of the driver together with the data from the sensors can tell the emergency services a lot more about what has happened and how they should respond.

“Society saves money because the sooner you can get treatment the less time the patient will spend in intensive care and gives you a better chance of staying alive. Also some injures, such as head and some joint injuries, if you can get them treated by the right kind of doctor you stand a better chance of getting back to fitness within a few months rather than just sending a standard ambulance to every crash.” 


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