Black box for cars

A black box for cars can automatically alert emergency services in the event of an accident, giving details of a vehicle’s location and the health of its occupants.

Developed over three years by 10 partners under the European Commission’s IST programme, the so-called AIDER system comprises an impact-resistant black box hooked up to a plethora of sensors.

The box itself contains a processing unit, flash memory and a mobile communications system that incorporates GPS tracking. Data is fed to it from an exterior front-mounted camera, a 360º degree camera inside the vehicle, mechanical sensors on the front, sides and back to register impact, and biomedical sensors connected to the occupants.

If an accident happens, data and low-resolution video footage is automatically sent via the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) to a control centre. Operators can also remotely obtain additional information such as higher resolution video images of the exact moment that the accident occurred.

A back-up communications system using the COSPAS-SARSAT international search and rescue satellite network can also be employed if GPRS fails, with the project partners having developed an integrated antenna for the black box that is able to transmit and receive over the different communications technologies.

Location information obtained via GPS satellite tracking allows call centre operators to pinpoint the exact location of the vehicle, while biomedical data allows them to determine the severity of occupants’ injuries, helping them decide whether to send a helicopter or an ambulance, and what equipment might be needed. Information about the number of occupants and video footage of their locations inside or outside the vehicle assists paramedics in locating patients who need priority attention.

“During trials we found that the system reduces the response time of emergency services by approximately 30% and also increases the effectiveness of their response,” says AIDER coordinator Silvia Zangherati at the FIAT Research Centre (CRF).

Zangherati adds that the system could also be used to reconstruct accidents, helping the police determine who or what was to blame. “Besides the social benefits, there are also commercial ones. Insurance companies, for example, are very interested in seeing systems such as this incorporated into vehicles,” she says.