Pilot scheme tests automatic emergency call system

Development of the European eCall system is now at a stage of national systems testing. Ertico’s project manager for the HeERO pilot scheme Andy Rooke has given ITS International the lowdown on progress towards pan-European eCall services. Live testing is now under way in the nine countries participating in the European Commission’s HeERO project – a three year pilot scheme preparing the way for full deployment of Europe’s eCall automatic emergency call system.
Location Based Systems / March 14, 2012
eCall Diagram
eCall will establish voice connection and send a Minimum Set of Data to Public Safety Access Points

Development of the European eCall system is now at a stage of national systems testing. Ertico’s project manager for the HeERO pilot scheme Andy Rooke has given ITS International the lowdown on progress towards pan-European eCall services.

Live testing is now under way in the nine countries participating in the 1690 European Commission’s HeERO project – a three year pilot scheme preparing the way for full deployment of Europe’s eCall automatic emergency call system.

HeERO, launched in January 2011, is intended to prove the interoperability and harmonisation of eCall across the 1816 European Union (EU). The pilot project has to demonstrate pan-European eCall services, so is tasked with testing in-vehicle systems and interoperability in the  participating EU member states of Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania and Sweden.

There are three elements in the eCall technology chain: in-vehicle systems; mobile telephony networks; and public safety access points (PSAP) – the initial level call centres for those in trouble. Emergency calls will be generated manually by vehicle occupants or automatically by activation of safety systems such as airbags or fuel pump cut out. When activated, the in-vehicle eCall system will establish a voice connection directly with the relevant PSAP; this being provided either by a public sector organisation, or a regulated and authorised private operator. At the same time, a Minimum Set of Data (MSD) will be sent to the PSAP receiving the voice call, identifying the vehicle and its location.

HeERO is being coordinated by 374 Ertico – ITS Europe. Its project manager Andy Rooke says that each participating EU member state is effectively undertaking a discrete project and defining its own national ITS architecture at present. This reflects the wide variance to be found between countries’ infrastructures. However, the overriding requirement is for interoperability across Europe.

“The new accession states are finding eCall implementation easiest in many respects because they are not having to deal with legacy systems. Some of the longer standing EU members have to consider how eCall can be integrated into or made to work with existing PSAPs and other systems,” Rooke explains.

“Each member state is working with a variety of external infrastructures and in-vehicle systems, including mandatory ones with an in-band modem. But they all have to show the ability to trigger an eCall, make a voice connection, give an acknowledgement and transmit an MSD including date, time, location and vehicle identification number. All of that has to happen within standards agreed by CEN and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).”

The next step from national efforts is to try out international interoperability. In the first instance this will be between neighbouring countries (Sweden with Finland and Germany with the Czech Republic for example). Russia’s GNSS solution ERA GLONASS is being included in the trial as that country has elected to make fitting of eCall mandatory. Initial tests in Finland and Russia have already shown favourable results, Rooke says.

“That’s ‘HeERO part one’; the technology level,” he says. “Institutionally there are other tasks, such as defining operating manuals to tell PSAP operators in their own language that when ‘X’ happens, do this.”

Validation and refinement

In many respects the project’s most important work will be validation. In December 2011, efforts got under way within HeERO on standards refinement. “Using live testing and defined standards we need to sort out what works and what still needs refining, with a view that as the timescale for legislation draws closer, the links between validation work by 1701 CEN and ETSI will get closer, thus clearing up any conflicts,” says Rooke.

Live testing is taking place in two stages. The first began in November 2011 and consists of a rolling programme under which the participating member states come on board. This will last until June this year. There will then be a period of evaluation before tests recommence in December 2012. Deployment enablers and barriers, both legal and cultural, will be identified and addressed. A ‘HeERO 2’ project will then provide for continuation of pre-deployment, looking at other vehicle types suitable for eCall.
“The initial testing has already shown that each member state is different. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to eCall implementation, although the high level architecture is the same throughout,” Rooke says.

An amendment for the Type Approval legislation for vehicles should be completed this year. The EC is aiming to have a fully functional eCall service in place by 2015 and legislation for this is being actively pursued now.

Rooke says: “The input from the project team is designed to make sure that the Commission is aware of the relevant technical issues, such that when legislation is finally drafted it deals with relevant standards without serving to mandate the technology to be used.”

Standards not systems

The technology required for eCall is relatively simple. The original project to prove the concept used a matchbox-sized on-board unit containing a GPS chipset, wireless modem and some processing capability. However, says Rooke, any attempt to be too prescriptive in terms of technology is doomed to failure by the relentless march of system development: “The stance we’re taking at the moment is that whatever system being used must comply with the current standards.”
Currently, HeERO is only concentrating on vehicles classified as M1 (those able to carry up to eight passengers plus the driver) and N1 (carrying goods not exceeding 3.5 tonnes).  Rooke says that criticisms relating to the fitting of discrete eCall systems to motorcycles – questioning whether smart or nomadic devices might offer a better solution – are premature, as are observations relating to the absence of eCall at present from heavy goods vehicles.

“The current aim is that come 2015, when the appropriate legislation is in place, eCall will be fitted to all new type approved vehicles. That means all M1 and N1 vehicles new to market, covering the bulk of fleets and road users.
“We have roadmaps for legislation and equipment manufacturers. The issue is to ensure synchronisation between in-vehicle systems providers, mobile network operators and PSAPs.”

Rooke acknowledges concerns from the automotive companies and their tier one and two suppliers. These, in the main, centre on having legislative events coordinated such that once Type Approval of eCall technology kicks in, vehicles rolling off the production lines will have the necessary capabilities and will work wherever they are sold. It is worth bearing in mind that several member states are yet to sign up to eCall.

“The project partners are committed to eCall deployment but the path is by no means a smooth one. That’s why the Commission needs to continue working with the legislative draft; the various standards committees also need to be dancing in step with each other if eCall is to happen when hoped. Things are on course at present. Both the Commission and the commercial side are of the opinion that there’s been enough talk and it’s time to get on with things.”

Service providers

The raging debate, as all this goes on, is over just who should provide eCall type services. Some automotive companies already do; North American readers will recognise the similarities between eCall and 1959 GM’s OnStar, for instance, and other manufacturers around the world have been filling a void in breakdown services in recent years.

“The viewpoint from ACEA (the European automobile manufacturers’ association) seems to be ‘we have taken the risk in developing this equipment so we should be able to define its usage’,” says Rooke. “The implication is that after eCall functionality, proprietary services which are purely commercial will take precedence. That could result in an approved response contractor’s vehicle being given preference over a breakdown vehicle closer to the incident.

Both the FIA and representatives of vehicle recovery companies are in discussion with the Commission’s DG Enterprise over this, as it’s seen as anti-competitive. In a Utopian world, things should be system-agnostic and select the nearest service provider. That’s still some way off.”

HeERO sits outside that debate to a degree. The Commission has been very clear, Rooke notes, that it is not especially bothered about third party services, but where these are being provided there must also be the pan-European eCall provision.

“The rationale is that manufacturers will say ‘don’t worry, we’ve got this covered – we can do what the PSAP does and do it just as well’. But such services will be reliant on having a commercial arrangement and so will contain a weakness because they can be halted at any time. The pan-European eCall service will be mandatory and free of charge at the point of use.

“The proprietary services cannot act as a PSAP because of data protection legislation. That legislation includes specific exemption of personal data in cases of personal rescue and a call to a PSAP has defined dispensation for the emergency services and anyone else deemed necessary to effect a rescue. In the case of third party service providers, many will tell you that users have signed away dispensation but the legal position is far from clear at present. The bottom line is that manufacturers must provide pan-European eCall equipped vehicles from 2015.”

HeERO pilot leaders and partners (Source: Ertico – ITS Europe)


Pilot Leader: ITS Niedersachsen GmbH
Partners: Oecon GmbH, NavCert GmbH, 566 NXP Semiconductors, Flughafentransfer Hannover GmbH; ADAC e.v., 260 Continental Automotive GmbH, S1nn GmbH & Co. KG


Pilot Leader: Ministry of Transport and Communication Finland
Partners: Ministry of the Interior - Department of Rescue Services, Emergency Response Centre Administration, VTT, Ramboll Finland Oy, 2025 Mediamobile Nordic Oy

Czech Republic

Pilot Leader: Ministry of Transport of the Czech Republic

Partner: Ministry of Interior - fire Rescue Service of the Czech Republic


Pilot Leader: ITS Romania
Partners: Special Telecommunication Service, National Company of Motorways and National Roads of Romania, 1969 UTI Systems SA, Romanian American University


Pilot Leader: Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri - Department for the Digitisation of Public Administration and technological Innovation
Partners: Centro Ricerche 1674 Fiat, Magnetti Marelli, Automobile Club Italia, 1983 Telecom Italia, Azienda Regionale Emergenza Urgenza


Pilot Leader: National Protection and Rescue Directorate
Partners: Croatian Automobile Club, Ericsson Nikola Tesla


Pilot Leader: Trafikverker
Partners: Lindholmen Science Park AB, Ericsson AB, ACTIA Nordic AB, 609 Volvo Cars Corporation

The Netherlands

Pilot Leader: Rijkswaterstaat
Partner: The Netherlands Police Agency


Pilot Leader: Greece Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks
Partner: General Secretariat for Civil Protection