BMW Crash-Severity Algorithm Tells Emergency Room Where it Hurts
By Bill Howard on June 20, 2011 at 1:00 pm
BMW has raised automatic crash notification to a new level. The on-board BMW Assist telematics system already calls 911 after a crash, just as many other brands do. But BMWs can also report to the 911 call center the likely severity of occupant injuries, and now BMW says it can transmit the injury information to a nearby hospital trauma center. BMW’s enhanced automatic collision notification (enhanced ACN or EACN) uses a sophisticated set of algorithms to instantly read the car’s crash sensor data and make an informed estimate of how to respond to the accident – police car? ambulance? helicopter? – and what injuries to look for when the victims get to the hospital or trauma center. That quick response has the potential to save thousands of lives.
You’re in luck if you have your car crash in Miami, in a BMW. It’s where BMW and the University of Miami’s William Lehman Injury Research Center have a cooperative project to wring out enhanced ACN. BMW has worked with the Lehman Center since 2001 and now they’re midway through a three-year project that began in October 2009 to gather data on crashes and the value of quick, appropriate response and treatment during the golden hour, or the first hour after the crash. If you can get the victim stabilized and to a trauma center within an hour of a bad crash, the odds of survival and recovery are highest. The most recent announcement, this week at the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles Conference in National Harbor, Md., extends BMW’s ability to transmit extensive crash information not just to the 911 system but also directly to hospital trauma centers, starting with Miami’s Ryder Trauma Center.
With the current automatic crash notification that’s on most telematics-equipped cars (meaning they have integrated on-board cellphones for data as well as voice, such as GM’s OnStar), here’s what happens in a crash: The car senses the severity of impact, the angle of impact, multiple impacts (crash and rollover), which airbags deployed, and whether the occupants are belted, says Peter Baur, manager of product analysis at BMW of North America. But there’s no interpretation of the data beyond: airbags-went-bang-send-help-to-this-geographic-coordinate. Police would respond (often just a patrol car), check out the crash, then call for an ambulance or occasionally a medical helicopter, then, says Baur, “EMS would drop off the trauma patient, but not necessarily [describe] what the accident looked like.” Meanwhile, in the most severe cases, the clock is running down on that golden hour.
With enhanced ACN, Baur says, “We collect the sensor data, massage it, evaluate it,” and then draw conclusions as to the likely severity of the accident, the odds of severe injury, even the chances of serious hidden injuries. That enhanced ACN information is what BMW and sibling Rolls-Royce transmit via the BMW call center to the nation’s 6,100 public safety answering points (PSAPs, or 911 call centers) and now to Miami’s Ryder Trauma Center for a Miami-area accident. Other automakers also have just as many sensors on their cars, incidentally — but they don’t yet analyze and make recommendations based on the crash data.
Dr. Jeffrey S. Augenstein, a professor of surgery at the Lehman Center, says one example of enhanced ACN’s value, would be interpreting side impacts. A crash victim might be walking around and appear to have no injuries. But BMW’s interpretation of the crash data might suggest the patient is at risk of liver injuries or a torn layer in the aorta, the main blood vessel from the heart. “The victim might feel fine but he could be bleeding [to death] internally,” Augenstein says. In that kind of accident, enhanced ACN’s recommendation to dispatch a medevac helicopter might raise some costs (helicopters run more than ambulances) and reduce others (funerals).
In an accident where the car has an integrated telematics cellphone, an automakers’ call center (not just BMW’s) also opens a voice link to the occupants to gather information and reassure them help is on way; in some cases, the automaker’s call center can even set up a three-way conference call with the PSAP. Augenstein, says, “We found that 92% of the time we have voice communication after the accident and we can capture things like who’s in the car, who’s injured, are they on medications.” (The other 8% of the time the occupants are already out of the car or too injured to respond.)
Right now, BMW or any other automaker implementing enhanced ACN can only recommend how public safety departments should respond. If the CDC  orders the nation’s 911 providers to take as gospel the recommendations of enhanced emergency crash notification algorithms, communities would have to in some crashes immediately dispatch an ambulance and police car simultaneously, and in some cases a medevac helicopter. They’d also have to upgrade their call centers to receive the information electronically, meaning more costs for cities and towns, or more requests for federal aid to pay for new systems. But the bottom line, says BMW’s Baur, is that the value of extending human life should far outweigh the costs.
1. CDC: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centers_for_Disease_Control_and_Prevention
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