In several studies, personal safety has been shown to be the mobile location service application users in North America are most interested in. Emergency services will be coordinated either directly by public safety answering points (PSAP) or indirectly by roadside assistance providers in conjunction with a PSAP if necessary. Mobile operators with operations in the United States are required by the FCC to provide location data with every emergency call made on their network.
Emergency calls made from a mobile phone would typically be life threatening as opposed to calls from an in-vehicle unit, which could range from a less serious incident, such as a flat tire, to a serious accident . Accordingly, emergency calls from a mobile phone go directly to a government-operated PSAP. Most auto manufacturers have a roadside assistance partner, with whom they bundle roadside assistance service with new vehicles. There is also after-market roadside assistance available directly from companies such as American Automobile Association and Europe Assist. The roadside assistance companies operate call centers that specialize in handling various emergency calls and dispatching the necessary services, whether it is a towing service or an ambulance.
If you've been in an accident, had a flat tire, or run out of gas in a remote area without a cell phone, you know that it can be difficult to call the roadside assistance company's toll-free number to get help. If the accident is serious enough, you might not be conscious and are dependent on another motorist seeing the accident and calling it in. Seconds can be crucial in a life-or-death situation. Wouldn't a better solution be to have the roadside assistance provider automatically notified in an accident and provided with necessary details, such as vehicle position and system status? Or at least provide the driver with a built-in interface to get help without having to find a pay phone or their mobile phone? This is the concept behind systems like OnStar's Onboard.
The OnStar Onboard system includes a three-button interface, a GPS receiver, a cellular chipset, and audio input/output capabilities. The system has a status light that is green when the system is working and red when there is a problem. While a call is in progress the status light flashes green. The button with the white dot either answers or ends calls. The blue button labeled "On" connects the user to an OnStar advisor for concierge services in the OnStar call center. The button with the red cross on it sends a priority call to an OnStar advisor, who is able to connect the user to the appropriate emergency service center. Since the infrastructure required to service emergency calls is in place, it makes sense for OnStar to offer a variety of additional services such as navigation and concierge services with the same interface.
To deliver services like these requires an expensive infrastructure. Emergency services calls will always require an operator in a call center, but concierge and navigation services can be provided with automated systems that provide a cost savings. These automated systems might be voice based or have graphical user interfaces designed for small mobile devices. In GPRS and 3G mobile networks, the emergency service provider has the advantage of moving information on the data channel rather than the voice channel. Because these networks are packet switched rather than circuit switched, they are always on. This saves valuable time in call set-up and also allows more efficient "pay-per-use" billing methods rather than paying while online, whether you are using the system or not.
Many industry players have an interest in improving the way emergency services are provided, from government agencies to managed health-care providers. All are interested in providing better service and reducing their costs. One such provider working to improve roadside medical assistance with location-based services is Roadside Telematics Corporation. Roadside Telematics is working with the Communications for Coordinated Assistance and Response to Emergencies (ComCARE) alliance to improve the way emergency services are handled (see Figure 11.4). Larry Williams, their CEO, details in the "RoadMedic Emergency Services Application" sidebar how simple mobile location services might be developed today using FM subcarrier networks instead of the cellular networks.
Figure 11.4. Emergency Services ComCARE Alliance. 2002 Roadside Telematics Corporation.