Space & Innovation

Swedish Ambulances to Interrupt Car Radios With Voice and Text Messages

The alert system could improve the chances that drivers will hear an approaching ambulance.

"WEEEOOO WEEEOOO WEEEOOO WEEEOOO!" Wait, were those sirens part of a song playing on the car radio or for real?

In Sweden, that question is about to be answered automatically for drivers. This year, ambulances in Stockholm will start testing a new system that interrupts audio playing in nearby vehicles and broadcasts a voice message warning that an emergency vehicle is coming through.

The alert system was created by university students at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm who noticed an uptick in crashes where the driver didn't hear an ambulance approaching. Sound insulation in cars has just gotten too good.

"Often drivers have only a few seconds to react and give way to emergency vehicles," Mikael Erneberg, an engineering student who worked on the system, said in a university press release. "We want to catch motorists' attention at an early stage, and mitigate stress that impairs road safety."

The students' system, called EVAM, works by sending an audio signal from the ambulance to the FM tuners in nearby vehicles. Tuners that are on will receive the ambulance's message, regardless of whether the driver is playing the radio, a CD or some other audio via Bluetooth, according to the university. At the same time, an alert text will appear on the tuner display.

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The EVAM System uses each vehicle's Radio Data System, which is a European communications protocol that radio stations use to display info including the station name, the title of a song, and the artist. In the United States, we call it the Radio Broadcast Data System.

Unlike wailing sirens, the new audio system can be set up to send out better advance warnings. On the highway, the vocal warning can go out earlier than in slower traffic, giving drivers enough time to slow down and clear the way safely. Another student working on the tech, Florian Curinga, told the university that the system would reach two-thirds of all drivers on the road.

The KTH students formed a startup called H&E Solutions to bring their system to the market, and they plan to begin testing it early this year on several ambulances in Stockholm. Having felt my adrenaline surge upon realizing that an ambulance is approaching at top speed and then fumbled to turn off the radio, I'm all for this new tech. One less potentially deadly distraction.

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