Motorcyclists are exposed and unprotected in traffic compared to most road users. Every year, around 250 drivers are seriously injured in Sweden, according to statistics from the Swedish Transport Agency. The trend is increasing – in 2018, 47 motorcyclists was killed, which is the highest rating in ten years.
”If a single vehicle accident occurs and the driver ends up unconscious in the ditch, it may take a long time before anyone notices what has happened”, says Chalmers researcher Stefan Candefjord, being a biker himself, and also one of the originators of the algorithm that is now used by SOS Alarm in a pilot project.
Fast and safe help for unprotected road users
Stefan Candefjord and Bengt Arne Sjöqvist, who both do research at the department of Electrical Engineering, are active in the field of prehospital e-health/Digital Health. The research is about developing smart IT solutions as support for decisions, aiming at to provide the right care and prompt treatment, even before the patient is brought to hospital. In this case, it is important to rapidly detect that an accident has occurred to alert the right rescue resources and thus minimizing injuries and deaths.
“Our starting point was to develop a function that is similar to eCall, which modern cars of today are equipped with, though instead directed to unprotected road users”, says Bengt Arne Sjöqvist. “The advantage of a mobile app is that it is considerably easier to distribute to the users than a specially designed hardware would be – since a smartphone already is present in almost every person’s pocket.”
Initially, the intended target group was single practitioners such as cyclists, horse riders and all-terrain vehicle drivers. In 2017, the researchers got in touch with a group of master’s students via Chalmers Ventures, who signed up for the idea. The company Detecht was founded with a focus on motorcycle drivers – a homogeneous target group with similar interests and a high safety awareness, that the app can satisfy.
“The two of us and Detecht are complementing each other. They are knowledgeable in the field and are driving the business model, while we can concentrate on the actual research part of the project,” says Stefan, who also holds a seat in the company board and will continue to contribute to the development of the functions of the algorithm.
For his part, Bengt Arne works within the framework of the “Prehospital ICT Arena”, with a related research project called TEAPaN (Traffic Event Assessment, Prioritizing and Notification). The purpose is to establish an IT structure that, in a coordinated way, is able to connect various eCall solutions – the motorcycle app being one of several examples – with the society’s rescue resources so that they are prioritized correctly, and the effort is optimized based on what actually has happened.
In addition to the safety aspect, the app also offers the users some social features such as sharing routes, pictures and statistics with other motorcyclists. This is something that hopefully makes the app even more interesting to use. In Sweden alone, there are more than 300 000 registered motorcycles, and internationally the interest is also very widespread – the market is considered to be substantial.
Being tested by SOS Alarm and 15 000 bikers
For three months, including May with a possibility of an extension, the app is tested in a pilot project at SOS Alarm.
“SOS Alarm is usually being restrictive in integrating new functions into their system, so it is gratifying that they are welcoming this technology and want to evaluate how sensor-controlled alarms can aid in their work”, Bengt Arne says.
Nor has it been difficult to recruit motorcycle drivers who want to take part in the test.
“The test results for April show that the about 15 000 motorcyclists involved in the project altogether have driven 120 000 kilometers, corresponding to three laps around the globe. One single minor accident did occur. The crash was correctly detected, the alarm was triggered as planned, and the operator at SOS Alarm sent intended rescue units to the position of the accident”, Stefan says.
“The number of false alarms has been low, only once was the alarm released unjustified. One possible reason is that the driver probably had the phone lying loosely during the ride, which may have affected the data that the app registered and therefore incorrectly was interpreted as if the motorcycle overturned at speed. We will analyze all such events to decide what further improvements in the algorithm that can be made.”
In the future, functions based on artificial intelligence are planned to be integrated, which will enhance the motorcyclists’ experiences. For example, the app can then recommend roads, fika stops and driving routes based on previous choices and preferences of the driver.
From a societal perspective, it is the possibility to save lives that is the crucial factor. The time that elapses from the occurrence of an accident until the victims get help can be directly decisive for the outcome. In addition to providing increased safety for the driver, the app is also giving reassurance for family and friends, who quickly can get a notice about an accident.
This is how the app works
The mobile phone’s built-in sensors record speed, g-force and rotation. The information from the run is analyzed using an algorithm that identifies driving behavior that indicates that the driver is no longer in control of the motorcycle. If the alarm is activated, the driver has 60 seconds to turn off the alarm, otherwise, an alarm message is automatically triggered, contacting SOS Alarm with information about the position. Then, the alarm operator first tries to establish contact with the driver over the phone. If the driver is in need of assistance, alternatively is not contactable, rescue units are alerted to the current location.Basically any smartphone can be used, the only requirement is that the driver downloads and activates the app “Detecht – your motorcycle app”. Anyone interested can participate as a test driver.