The European Parliament voted by a large majority to adopt the eCall safety system for all new cars from 2009 during a session of 27 April. The vote marks a high-point for the European Commission's Framework Programmes, as the eCall project was first conceived and developed under the fifth Framework Programme (FP5) project AIDER, according to the researchers involved. Around 40,000 people are killed on European roads every year, with more than 3.3 million sustaining injuries. This takes an economic as well as emotional toll, estimated to be as high as 180 billion euro. The eCall initiative aims for all new cars to be fitted with eCall, which will alert the emergency services of an accident immediately. It will provide a precise location thanks to global positioning (GPS), significantly reducing response times. The system, however, relies upon the adoption of 112 as the EU-wide emergency number, which would ensure full interoperability in all Member States. While commercial interest in eCall has been very high, some Member States have so far been slow to put their weight behind it. The Parliament's support will give eCall a significant boost - the system is expected to cut road traffic injuries by around 15 per cent, and fatalities by up to ten per cent, once in place. While some luxury models already offer systems similar to eCall, this boost will spread the high level of driver safety to all. The AIDER project began in September 2001, securing more than half of its funding under FP5. The AIDER consortium, led by Fiat in Italy, included a further nine partners spread across Israel, Italy, Germany, Austria and Spain. AIDER was conceived as a way of reducing the consequences of road traffic accidents. The project envisaged a kind of automotive 'black box', akin to the devices in aeroplanes, which would continually assess a car's environment, including speed, terrain and many other factors. Should there be an accident, the box would perform a quick calculation, comparing the state of the vehicle before and after impact. This would yield important information about where the car was hit, but perhaps most importantly, how quickly the car stopped, and therefore how severe the accident. The box would then alert a call centre with essential details about the nature of the crash, which could be reconstructed. Because the emergency services would be contacted immediately, and with details of the accident, they would arrive both more quickly and prepared for specific injuries. This would be an effective weapon against road traffic fatalities. 'AIDER was the first implementation, but the philosophy was different,' said AIDER project coordinator Silvia Zangherati from the Fiat research centre, in an interview with CORDIS news. 'AIDER was a black box. In the case of an accident, it would capture data, store it so that an accident reconstruction could be made, and make a data and voice link. We did not initially envisage the 112 link, but instead sending the information to a service provider. Once the link would be up, we could transmit bio-information regarding the passengers and assess the severity of the incident and alert the emergency services. 'We had more-or-less made decisions about how to interface the black box data with the service provider, and we had settled on a GPRS solution. We had also installed video cameras to capture data about the passengers, to see if they could move or if they had been ejected from the vehicle. It was a very complex system. 'The intention was not to use all systems but consider separate functionality. eCall is defined by a different architecture still to be finalised, but AIDER was a complete system - to make innovative technical solutions and how to integrate functionality. AIDER is still being pushed,' said Ms Zangherati. Although Ms Zangherati is not directly involved in the eCall project, she continues to specialise in innovative technologies for Fiat. eCall is now managed by the much larger European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), which has trimmed the idea down from the ambitious AIDER concept, and organised a 'Driving group' to plan the roll-out of eCall. The complete AIDER system, far from being forgotten, represents how far car safety can be driven in the future. The system now will transmit geographical data from (GPS), and call the emergency services directly with information. Response times alone will be cut by up to 50 per cent in rural areas, and 40 per cent in urban areas. Every second saved corresponds to lives saved. The eCall system will also open a line directly to the emergency services, operated automatically on impact, or it can be used manually. The voice connection is important as it can provide further details of the nature of the accident, preparing the emergency teams. ACEA spokesperson Alfredo Filippone spoke to CORDIS news. 'There are some issues still to be resolved with eCall. Member States have to change their emergency service codes to 112. Also, with eCall being an automatic signal, call centres will need to be able to handle these kinds of signals at emergency centres - there will be an increased volume of calls and of technical equipment at emergency call centres. This has to happen all over the union. 'We also need to invest more money to make the scheme more appealing, but this would be a common venture. The scheme should bring in significant savings, and if so, insurers would want to participate. Technically, the scheme is not too complicated, requiring a link between GSM [mobile phone] and GPS [global positioning] technologies,' said Mr Filippone. In fact, the 112 system would need to be updated to what is provisionally known as E112. From land lines, calls automatically divert to local emergency call centres. However, with mobile 'phones this may not happen. E112 will factor in location, making emergency calls more, rather than less specific. This will be essential for the smooth working of eCall, as speed of response time is a priority for the project. ECall has become the focus for the European Commission's eSafety initiative, launched in July 2005 by Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. The project aims to reduce by almost 20,000 the number of deaths due to driving in the EU by 2010. 'eCall is a good example of how we can increase the quality of life of European citizens through innovation and use of new technologies,' she said. Since the launch, interested parties have been invited to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, adding their voices of support to the initiative, 'to secure the realisation of an interoperable in-vehicle emergency call service (eCall) supplied, introduced and operated across Europe,' it reads. The Parliament's vote came on the recommendation of UK rapporteur, MEP Gary Titley (PES), who presented a comprehensive rundown of how far eCall has come, and what Member States need to do in order to make the 2009 introduction a reality. The timetable to introduction expects working prototypes to be introduced later this year, with full-scale trials and early adoption as soon as 2007.