ETH Zurich :
Computer Science :
Pervasive Computing :
Distributed Systems :
The Smart Tachograph
A Research Demo of the Distributed Systems Group
The Smart Tachograph is a ubiquitous computing system that allows
a fine-granular, real-time analysis and accounting of traffic costs.
The project started from the insight that nowadays many of the
traffic-related costs are not accounted to their originators, but rather
spread across a larger group, mainly due to the impossibility of exact
measurements. Ecology-oriented vehicle taxes, for example,
typically depend on the vehicle's type (more polluting vehicles having
to pay a higher tax). Such taxes fall short of fulfilling their
ecological aim, however, since they do not take in account the annual
mileage of the vehicle, neither the conditions in which the car is
being driven, e.g. ozone levels.
Likewise, today's car insurance schemes typically divide drivers into
about two dozen different risk categories, using only a few criteria
such as the driver's age, gender, driving experience, place of residence,
or car model. While all these parameters are being determined before
the insurance goes into effect, the actual behavior of the driver after
signing the policy (e.g., a safe driving style) will reflect only slowly
on his or her insurance rate, typically only after one or more years
of accident-free driving. Moreover, since inside such a statical risk
category the actual risks can still vary heavily, higher-risk drivers
in a class are thus cross-financed by the lower-risk drivers.
Through the use of ubiquitous computing technology, however, much
of the data that has been previously unavailable might now easily
be measured. According to the place, time, and way someone is driving,
the economical and ecological costs as well as the risk of
being involved in a traffic accident can be ascertained
with a high degree of accuracy.
The Smart Tachograph system allows to determine these momentarily
costs and risks and to bill the drivers in a pay-per-use / pay-per-risk
manner instead of flat.
The Smart Tachograph prototype consists of several components. Sensors
placed in the car gather data about the way and the circumstances in which
the vehicle is being driven, this data is then analyzed on a computer
to ascertain the according costs, and a software infrastructure serves
as both back-end connection to various accounting entities as well as
front-end interface to the vehicle's driver.
A black box has been placed underneath the car's windshield.
It contains a collection of sensors: a wireless GPS unit as well
as a sensor board carrying two accelerometers (for longitudinal
and cross acceleration), a temperature, and a light sensor. The data
gathered by these sensors is sent via Bluetooth to a laptop computer
running the Smart Tachograph's software.
The main role of the software infrastructure is to query data from
the sensors (depicted above the car in the picture),
and to mediate communication with several possible accounting places
(these are depicted under the car). The software has been
designed to be flexible, so that including new sensors or
accounting entities becomes a trivial task.
At the time being, we have included three different kinds of entities
that might be interested in the manner the car is driven:
insurance companies, the tax authority, and the police. These entities
may charge the driver a usage-dependent insurance rate,
road tax, and traffic fines respectively.
The software infrastructure accomplishes several other tasks as well.
When starting the system, it presents the driver the accounting
places that must be active to be able to start the car. These could for
example be the tax authority and/or the police and at least one
insurance company. For the first two there is no option, but the insurer
may be freely chosen. A service description and discovery protocol is
therefore part of the software infrastructure. Insurers may publish
several insurance schemes they offer. These will typically have a
pretty low minimum per-kilometer insurance price, that will increase
according to traffic, time and place of the ride, momentary acceleration,
driven speed in relation to the speed limit, and others criteria.
The Smart Tachograph's software further includes a front-end interface
to the driver. This is depicted in the picture on the right. It consists
of several windows:
- The main program window, in the lower right
corner, is needed to setup and start the system. Several parameters
can be set here. Among them the driver may choose an insurance company
and a price scheme out of the available offers, thus implementing
the idea of a ride-by-ride insurance, which can be seen as similar to
- The second window (in the lower left corner)
presents the sensor data as a collection of bars. The raw
GPS coordinates are translated into the actual street that's been driven
on using a commercial geospatial database.
Knowing the speed limit for all streets in the
canton of Zurich, we can display this information on
one of the bars and use it, together with the actual speed, for risk
approximation. The actually driven speed is also inferred from the
GPS data, as distance traveled over time. In a real-world deployment,
this information could of course be gathered directly from
the speedometer. Our method is surprisingly exact though. The
lower bars show the data from the other sensors - longitudinal and
cross acceleration, temperature, and light intensity. The data from
all these sensors, as well as the GPS coordinates are ascertained
and transferred to the laptop once every second.
The third type of interface windows would probably be the only ones
shown in a real deployment. They show the current costs (insurance rate,
road tax), which are continuously calculated on from the received sensor data.
The indicators presenting these aggregations should be perceived by
the driver similar to the momentary gas consumption indication built
into some cars. It allows the driver to receive instant feedback on
how his or her driving style influences the traffic costs. Traffic fines
can also be issued automatically. They are not expressed as
money per kilometer, but as one-time events (i.e., when the speed limit
has been exceeded for more than ten seconds).
The Smart Tachograph was developed with the explicit aim of showing
what is already possible with today's technology and how
far-reaching the consequences could be. A system such as the
Smart Tachograph provides both chances (more fairness because people
would pay for the costs they actually create which could in return
make people drive more carefully and ecologically), but also heavy
risks. We included the police module, that automatically issues traffic
fines, to illustrate precisely such ideas.
Furthermore, we wanted to show that ubiquitous computing systems can
be implemented in more than one way.
Although possible, we therefore did not choose to send all
measured data online to the accounting entities.
Instead, the data is analyzed locally on the vehicle's computer
using a formula provided by the accounting places. These formulas are
either enforced by law (e.g., the road pricing module), or have been
issued by the insurer when the contract has been signed. The
accounting entities ultimately receive only a sum at the end of the
month that represents the costs that have been produced by the driver.
Of course, all information being processed locally arises the risk of
sensor and/or software tampering by the vehicle owner, that have to be
Two short movies (3 and 7 minutes long) demonstrating the prototype are
available for viewing:
- The first has been made by the Swiss
National Television, is in German, shorter, and provides
a rather superficial overview of the project's aims and results.
The second movie has been presented at the
UbiComp2005 video session. It is
in English, longer (7 minutes), and it also goes into some details on
how the system works. Two qualities are available.
This demo was created in June 2005.
See also the following related items:
See the Publications of the Distributed Systems Group page for a full listing of our publications.
- Vlad Coroama
The Smart Tachograph – Individual Accounting of Traffic Costs and its Implications.
Proceedings of Pervasive 2006. pp. 135-152, Dublin, Ireland, May 07-10, 2006
Abstract, BibTeX, Paper (.pdf)
- Vlad Coroama, Marc Langheinrich
Personalized Vehicle Insurance Rates – A Case for Client-Side Personalization in Ubiquitous Computing.
Workshop on Privacy-Enhanced Personalization at CHI 2006. Montréal, Canada, April 22, 2006
Abstract, BibTeX, Paper (.pdf)
- Vlad Coroama, Jürgen Bohn, Friedemann Mattern
Living in a Smart Environment – Implications for the Coming Ubiquitous Information Society.
Proceedings of the International Conference on Systems, Man and Cybernetics 2004 (IEEE SMC 2004). Vol. 6, pp. 5633-5638, The Hague, The Netherlands, October 10-13, 2004
Abstract, BibTeX, Paper (.pdf)
- Vlad Coroama, Norbert Höckl
Pervasive Insurance Markets and their Consequences.
First International Workshop on Sustainable Pervasive Computing at Pervasive 2004, Vienna, Austria, April 2004
BibTeX, Paper (.pdf)
Related Student Projects
The following table lists corresponding student projects in our group. Note that some descriptions will be in German.