Technology Update : Issue no. 3/2009

    Connected cars save lives

    Guido Gehlen, Sabine Sories, Friedhelm Ramme and Michael Meyer

    A cellular network-based research prototype has shown the potential for reducing the number of automobile accidents and for improving traffic flow when motor vehicles are enabled to communicate with one another over 3G networks. The concept, which was developed by Ericsson Eurolab in collaboration with Vodafone and German car manufacturers, helps save lives by providing real-time alerting services that give drivers more accurate and timely information compared with radio broadcast-based systems. What is more, because the solution relies on existing cellular infrastructure, it offers a smooth deployment strategy and provides a quick return on investment.

    There were more than 1.2 million accidents on Europe’s roads in 2008, causing 39,000 deaths and 1.7 million injuries. Timely road traffic warnings could thus have the potential to prevent numerous accidents and save thousands of lives each year. And in the event that an accident does occur, an automatic emergency call (eCall) could give emergency centers the ability to respond more effectively.

    At the end of 2008, the European Commission took a major step toward the deployment of intelligent transport systems (ITS) by publishing its ITS Action Plan, which proposes a directive that lays down the framework for deploying ITS. The action plan covers the following areas:

    • optimal use of roads, traffic and travel data
    • continuity of traffic and freight-management ITS services
    • road safety and security
    • integration of vehicles into the transport machine-to-machine application infrastructure
    • data security, protection, and liability issues
    • EU ITS cooperation and coordination

    Figure 1. May 2009 CoCar demonstration at MAN truck test area in Munich, Germany

    Addressing road safety and security actions, the Cooperative Cars (CoCar) project demonstrated, in May 2009 that mobile broadband communication can defuse dangerous situations by helping motorists to coordinate and adapt to surrounding traffic (Figure 1). For example, in situations where a traffic jam lies just around the bend, the system automatically alerts – in less than half a second – approaching vehicles to the fact that the vehicles ahead are braking or decelerating abruptly.

    Figure 2. CoCar system overview

    Service layer network enhancements from Ericsson Eurolab that run on top of Vodafone’s mobile WCDMA/HSPA networks (Figure 2) make it possible for specially equipped vehicles from Daimler, MAN and Volkswagen to diffuse potentially dangerous driving situations (Figure 3).

    Figure 3. Warning in a MAN truck: “Emergency vehicle approaching”

    Sensors in the vehicles automatically detect dangerous situations and send an IP-based warning to a real-time road-traffic information center that then distributes the messages to vehicles in the vicinity of the hazard. The receiving vehicles check the relevance of the warning and, if pertinent, warn the driver. Vehicles can be addressed individually, using unicast services, or as a group, using locally restricted cellular broadcast enabled by MBMS (Figure 4).

    Figure 4. Real-time distribution of hazard warning using MBMS

    There is tremendous business potential in equipping the 300 million cars and 45 million commercial vehicles on European roads. Penetration would be rather slow if only newly produced vehicles are included. However, given that the required client functions can be deployed in connected personal navigation devices (PND) as well as mobile phones, the adoption of a multiclient strategy will greatly accelerate market introduction. The service may also easily be combined with the introduction of the eCall service.

    Once cars have been equipped with the cellular communication modules, the stage will be set for a host of novel vehicle-related services and applications, such as safety, road efficiency and infotainment. Of course, to provide these services, the automotive and telecommunications industries will need to develop and standardize a common multipurpose machine-to-machine application platform – a horizontal architecture for an automotive service enabler that contains subscriber and device management, privacy, security, and QoS functions. To this end, ETSI has already begun defining an ITS Reference Architecture.

    Ericsson presented its vision of a cellular technologies-based ITS communication architecture at ITS World Congress 2009. The principal elements of this vision are

    • broadband networks, such as WCDM/HSPA and LTE
    • operator-managed service-control functions
    • several service-layer extensions (including real-time data management, vehicle gateways, and vehicle machine-to-machine application servers).

    As part of its presentation, Ericsson demonstrated hazard-warning and in-car multimedia applications.




    Guido Gehlen is a senior research engineer at Ericsson Eurolab, Germany. He holds an M.Sc. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from RWTH Aachen University, Germany. From 2002-2007 he was involved in a logistics research project and the European research project IST-MYCAREVENT. In 2007, he finished his Ph.D. thesis on Mobile Web Services - Concepts, Prototype, and Traffic Performance. From 2007-2009 he served as the leader of the Cooperative Cars (CoCar) research project and was responsible for automotive communication services at Ericsson.

    Sabine Sories joined Ericsson in 2006. As a research engineer in wireless access networks, her work focuses on the performance of automotive and other machine-to-machine-type applications in cellular networks. Within the CoCar project, Sabine studied the performance of vehicle communication in 3G networks. At present, she is investigating the field of machine-to-machine applications with LTE. Sabine holds a diploma degree in electrical engineering from the Aachen University of Applied Sciences, Germany.

    Friedhelm Ramme, who joined Ericsson in 1998, is the manager of service networks solutions research at Ericsson Eurolab Aachen, Germany. He has a background in computer science—in particular, in distributed software design and networked computer systems. Prior to 2003 his work entailed coordinating mobile e-commerce research, including mobile logistics solutions. Since 2003, the focus of his work is on advanced service-creation methods and cellular-enhanced ITS solutions, and he has initiated and established a number of projects and activities in these fields. Friedhelm holds an M.Sc. and Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Paderborn, Germany. 

    Michael Meyer joined Ericsson in 1996. He currently manages the Radio Protocol and Multimedia Technologies research department at the Ericsson Eurolab in Aachen. From 2001 to 2008, he was Senior Specialist for wireless IP transport and link layer protocol interactions, working with TCP/IP performance over wireless and link layer protocols for GPRS and UMTS. Most recently, he has been working with concept development and the standardization of LTE. Michael holds a doctoral and a diploma degree in electrical engineering from the University of Paderborn, Germany. 


    On September 9, 2009 the GSMA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to secure the introduction of Emergency call eCall, a regulatory initiative from the European Commission (EC) that is intended to bring rapid and accurate assistance to motorists involved in a collision anywhere in the European Union (EU). According to the EU strategy, the eCall service should begin to appear in 2011 and will work with all new cars sold in Europe by 2014.  

    Cooperative Cars (CoCar) project

    Project management: Ericsson Eurolab
    Participants: Ericsson Eurolab, Vodafone, Daimler, MAN, Volkswagen
    Duration: 2.5 years, 2007–2009,
    Budget: EUR 4 million, part of the Aktiv research initiative.