What will be in the auto black box?

-January 09, 2013

Coming soon in September 2014, cars will be required to have an automotive "black box," also known as an MVEDR (motor vehicle electronic data recorder), that will record information in the event of an accident. There are specifications (IEEE 1616 and an Overview) that dictate what has to be captured - VIN, Speed, Brake Position, Wheel Direction, Seat Belts status, etc., as well as information on how to keep the information tamper-proof.

The spec also covers details on how to connect to the MVEDR and what crash survivability is required for the device. The latest versions of the specification are the IEEE-1616-2010 and the IEEE-1616a-2010. The 1616a addendum covers the protocol and information regarding the MVEDRCLA (MVEDR Connector Lockout Apparatus) that keeps the information in the system from being accessible or tampered with until authorized.

While the main physical access issues for protecting the required data are defined, the information that is collected regarding the operation of the vehicle and the associated personal data that can be collected in the devices has not been defined. As a result, the privacy and distribution of that information has not been defined or designed as the specification is still in progress.

This presents some challenges, as new features and sensors are being added to the automobile that require storage of information, but may not be time critical or appropriate to review out of context. Most of the new vehicles are being designed to incorporate communication as an integral part of the vehicle. This communication will be from all the sensor systems in the car to a central processor, as well collection of this information for transfer to the cloud for owner analysis after using the car.

This communication may also include direct connections with the mobile devices of the occupant. As a result, the car will know who is in the vehicle and status of those people. By status - the idea is who, what they are doing, where they are seated, activity on their mobile device and soon, the state of health of the person based on active lifestyle monitoring that is a key driver in mobile devices.

These mobile health care issues are not being limited to smart phones and tablets, they are being integrated into vehicles. A number of drivers assist features feature cameras and sensors to tell if the driver is alert and looking in the right place. New sensors include systems for determining the EEG and ECG among other parameters of the driver, without the invasive use of wires. Debuting at CES, Plessey is introducing the EPIC sensor system for driver ECG applications (see figure).

Figure: Debuting at CES, Plessey is introducing the EPIC sensor system for driver ECG applications.

The contact-based sensors can, when configured in a seatback, pick up the ECG heartbeat of the driver. The car can then use this information to determine no only the driver's state of awareness and anticipated response time to situations, but also automatically inform third parties and emergency response of issues like heart attack and stress on the part of the driver. These sensors can also be configured to pick up EEG for alertness determination of the driver.

The big question is not if these systems should be integrated into the vehicles, but how much of this info should be allowed to be stored and used in the MVEDR, and who should be able to review it. As there is state of the driver information that can be collected in addition to state of the vehicle, we want to make sure that the health care industry does not run amok and require HIPAA & HITECH compliance for cars adding to the every rising costs of ownership and maintenance for a vehicle.

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