The Computerworld Honors Program
Honoring those who use Information Technology to benefit society
LOCATION:
Detroit, MI, United States

YEAR:
2008

STATUS:
Laureate

CATEGORY:
Transportation

NOMINATING COMPANY:
Qualcomm

ORGANIZATION:
OnStar

PROJECT NAME:
Stolen Vehicle Slowdown



Introductory Overview
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, about 30,000 police chases occur yearly resulting in over 300 deaths annually as well as numerous injuries.

OnStar’s Stolen Vehicle Slowdown technology can help reduce fatalities and injuries resulting from police chases. This new technology can allow OnStar advisors working with law enforcement to send a signal to a subscriber’s stolen vehicle to reduce engine power slowing the vehicle down gradually.

“From its inception, the motivation behind OnStar has been the safety and security of our subscribers and others on the road,” said Chet Huber, OnStar president. “Every service we add builds on this original promise. The Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service will allow our subscribers added peace of mind by possibly preventing their vehicle from being used as an instrument of harm if it happens to be stolen.”

Enabled by OnStar’s newest generation of hardware (Generation 8 to be introduced in mid-2008), GM will make Stolen Vehicle Slowdown available on nearly 1.7 million Model Year (MY) 2009 vehicles.

Stolen Vehicle Slowdown is an enhancement to OnStar’s Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance, which the company has offered to its subscribers since 1996. Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance uses the U.S. space-based Global Positioning System technology to pinpoint the location of a vehicle that has been reported stolen. OnStar provides the location to law enforcement to assist with the vehicle’s recovery. OnStar receives approximately 700 Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance requests from subscribers a month. The company has helped in 28,000 requests over the past decade.

Research has shown that 95 percent of OnStar subscribers want the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service available on their cars and trucks. The system has been designed to allow OnStar subscribers the choice to opt-out of the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service at any time by contacting OnStar if they prefer not to have this capability on their vehicle. This will not affect the rest of their OnStar services.

The process for Stolen Vehicle Slowdown is:
1. Once the vehicle has been reported stolen to law enforcement, the subscriber can call OnStar and request Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance. OnStar will confirm the subscriber has not opted out of the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service.

2. OnStar will use wireless connectivity and real-time GPS technology to attempt to pinpoint the exact location of the stolen vehicle and provide this information to law enforcement to help them recover the vehicle.

3. When law enforcement has arrived on the scene and established a clear line of sight to the stolen vehicle, law enforcement may request OnStar to slow the vehicle down remotely.

4. Safeguards will be in place to ensure that the correct vehicle is slowed down.

5. OnStar then sends a remote signal to the vehicle that interacts with the Powertrain system to reduce engine power which will slow the vehicle down gradually.

OnStar’s Stolen Vehicle Slowdown is a GM-exclusive feature in the U.S. and Canada and will be included in the one year OnStar subscription that customers receive when purchasing an eligible MY 2009 OnStar-equipped vehicle.

OnStar’s suite of services also includes Advanced Automatic Crash Notification, Emergency Services, Remote Door Unlock, Roadside Assistance, Crisis Assist, OnStar Turn-by-Turn Navigation, Hands Free Calling and OnStar Vehicle Diagnostics.

The Importance of Technology
How did the technology you used contribute to this project and why was it important?
Technology and the advantage of OnStar’s high level of integration within the GM vehicle design process were the enablers of OnStar’s Stolen Vehicle Slowdown feature. The seamless combination of key enabling technologies coupled with an understanding of what is relevant in the marketplace and an ability to deliver made this service addition possible.

Through sophisticated engineering design and manufacturing processes, the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown technology is integrated into the vehicle during its assembly. Key components of this technology include:

1. A multi-carrier supported cellular communications network which offers the largest geographic footprint in the U.S.

2. An embedded OnStar module integrated into the vehicles’ electrical architecture which provides the hardware and software necessary for two-way data communications with other modules on the vehicle’s electrical buss (such as the vehicle’s Powertrain controller) and between the vehicle and the OnStar call center.

3. A robust location determination algorithm leveraging data from the OnStar module’s GPS receiver and other embedded vehicle sensors that allow OnStar to know where to direct police to find the stolen vehicle.

Once the law enforcement authorities have the stolen vehicle in sight, the OnStar Call Center sends a signal over the wireless network to the vehicle to activate the vehicle’s hazard lights, allowing for an additional confirmation that police have correctly identified the stolen vehicle. After the authorities indicate it is safe to do so, the OnStar Call Center sends the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown activation signal to the OnStar module through a secure data connection.

Next, a serial data communication network utilized by the OnStar module to interact with the Powertrain system enables a secure request to activate the slowdown feature. The Powertrain system utilizes existing hardware to control the vehicle’s acceleration capability. When the slowdown technology is activated, the Powertrain system essentially ignores accelerator pedal inputs, resulting in the vehicle coasting down to idle. Simultaneously, the OnStar module also communicates with the vehicle’s lighting control module to initiate the flashing of the vehicle’s lights to help warn surrounding motorists and pedestrians.

After the Powertrain system activates the slowdown, a signal is sent back to the OnStar Call Center indicating the system has been activated.

Once OnStar receives confirmation from the authorities that conditions are appropriate to reset the vehicle to normal operation, a signal is sent from the OnStar call center re-enabling the vehicle’s accelerator.

At the core of OnStar’s Stolen Vehicle Slowdown technology is the seamless integration with the GM Powertrain system. Leveraging existing Powertrain hardware, sensors and control capabilities allowed this technology to be seamlessly added to the vehicle design. In addition, OnStar’s embedded system solution and its level of integration within a vehicle enables flexibility in terms of the potential addition of content and functionality in the future.

In addition to the in-vehicle and wireless technology that enables this slowdown feature, there is an equally important IT function that supports this from an advisor and call routing perspective. This IT function requires the interface between three separate IT applications which route the calls to the appropriate group of advisors, enables the specially-trained advisor team to identify that the correct vehicle is being pursued, and re-enables the vehicle from slowdown mode to standard operating mode.

Benefits
Has your project helped those it was designed to help?   Yes

Has your project fundamentally changed how tasks are performed?   Yes

What new advantage or opportunity does your project provide to people?
OnStar assists with approximately 6,000 vehicle thefts each year using its Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance service to pinpoint a vehicle’s GPS location. Unfortunately, many vehicle thefts also result in high-speed chases that place drivers, bystanders and law enforcement officers in harm’s way.

In fact, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show that more than 30,000 high-speed chases yearly result in 12,000 incidents of property damage, 7,500 injuries, and over 300 fatalities. Stolen Vehicle Slowdown can help significantly combat these figures and prevent senseless tragedies that can severely alter or entirely take the lives of innocent people.

The benefits of this technology are many. Among the people who can most benefit from it are innocent motorists, bystanders and pedestrians on or near the road on which a high-speed chase is occurring. Every second that a high-speed chase is cut short increases the chance that an unsuspecting motorist or pedestrian is kept safe. Likewise, interrupted high-speed chases mean the preservation of property that would otherwise be senselessly destroyed.

Other people who will significantly benefit from this technology are law enforcement and public safety officials, who thanks to Stolen Vehicle Slowdown have another tool at their disposal for bringing high-speed chases to safe conclusions. By keeping the duration of high-speed chases as short as possible or preventing them altogether, Stolen Vehicle Slowdown keeps safe those people who keep us safe.

OnStar advisors help law enforcement officials by first pinpointing the GPS location of the vehicle in question and then flashing the vehicle’s lights to confirm authorities have the correct car in their line of sight. When the law enforcement officials determine it is safe to do so, they can give OnStar advisors the go-ahead to initiate a slowdown. During a slow-down, the driver of the vehicle in question still has full use of the vehicle’s other features such as braking and power steering but is unable to accelerate even when pressing on the gas.

With this new technology, recovery time of stolen vehicles can be reduced. Once the stolen vehicle report is verified by OnStar and the vehicle confirmation safe guards have been met with the authorities, the advisor can immediately activate the slow down capability. This should help in allowing for a faster recovery time for stolen vehicles and help lessen the chances of incurring significant damages to the subscriber’s vehicle.

Select advisors assist with stolen vehicle assistance requests. These advisors receive additional hours of specialized training to safeguard customer’s privacy and ensure appropriate processes are followed.

Research indicates that 95 percent of OnStar subscribers are interested in this opt-in service, which will be available on two million 2009 Model Year GM vehicles. There is no additional cost to subscribers for the Stolen Vehicle Slow Down capability and it is included in their standard OnStar subscription. And OnStar predicts it will perform at least 600 vehicle slowdowns in its first year after full production launch of Stolen Vehicle Slowdown.


If possible, include an example of how the project has benefited a specific individual, enterprise or organization. Please include personal quotes from individuals who have directly benefited from your work.
The Stolen Vehicle Slowdown technology will benefit all aspects of society. By eliminating the need for high-speed and often dangerous police pursuits of stolen vehicles, the technology will make the nation’s roads safer for drivers, passengers and innocent bystanders. “Technology should not just entertain us or make us more comfortable, it should make us safer,” said Nicole R. Nason, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “We applaud innovations such as the kind GM is embracing that will make our roads better, our passengers more protected and our drivers safer.”

Additionally law enforcement agencies will benefit from this technology and the protection it provides to officers. “We look forward to having technologies like Stolen Vehicle Slowdown available to aid our officers in apprehending suspected car thieves and keeping our officers, highways and citizens safe,” said David Hiller, national vice president, Fraternal Order of Police. “Since 1996, OnStar has assisted the law enforcement community by helping to locate stolen vehicles.”

Another group to benefit from this technology is the first responders; the firefighters and paramedics who are typically the first to arrive at an accident or the end of a pursuit. “The IAFC sees this technology as an opportunity to improve the likelihood of a positive outcome for all involved in such dangerous road situations,” said Chief Steven P. Westermann, President, International Association of Fire Chiefs. “On behalf of all firefighters, we appreciate the research and commitment of General Motors to tackle these issues and come up with a safe solution.”

John Walsh, co-founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has also publicly supported GM and OnStar’s efforts to make the roads safer through innovations such as Stolen Vehicle Slowdown. “There are about 30,000 pursuits in the country every year…many of them end tragically. Wouldn’t it be something if we could disable those vehicles before they hit the innocent bystander?” He is especially impressed by how this technology can help to save the life of a child: “I have a great respect for OnStar. If that saves one child who has been carjacked or kidnapped, it’s incredible. It’s taking this technology to the next level”.


Originality
Is it the first, the only, the best or the most effective application of its kind?   All of the above

What are the exceptional aspects of your project?
OnStar’s Stolen Vehicle Slowdown technology is the first and only of its kind to be offered anywhere in the world. Therefore, there are many exceptional aspects of this project. Most important is the fact that this technology has a real, tangible societal benefit. It can prevent the damage of property, personal injury and even loss of life that can occur during a high-speed police pursuit of a stolen vehicle. This service is a prime example of a technology that has a very real-world application.

Also of note is that this functionality was created by leveraging preexisting technology in the General Motors’ vehicle; no separate componentry was added. This is important because it speaks to OnStar’s long-standing commitment to constantly enhance its service offering without adding to its cost base and without increasing the cost of the service to its subscribers. Simplicity has always been the key to OnStar’s success – at the press of a button a subscriber has access to a multitude of safety and security services. It is this simplistic approach to providing complex services that permeates throughout the organization and which ultimately benefits OnStar’s base of nearly five million subscribers.

Additionally, the engineering team was working within a very compressed time schedule; if this technology had to be created from scratch, it would have been impossible to meet the implementation deadlines for MY 2009 vehicles. Long lead times are the norm when working with vehicle platforms; however, for this project, engineers were able to apply learnings from existing vehicle technologies such as adaptive cruise control and leverage various algorithms within the vehicle speed interface, which in turn reduced the number of validations that needed to be performed.

Another exceptional aspect of this project is the incredible amount of media coverage surrounding the announcement of this new technology. The announcement of Stolen Vehicle Slowdown in October 2007 garnered nearly 500 million media impressions, an unprecedented number of impressions in the twelve year history of OnStar, and one of General Motors’ most compelling announcements in its history. Media from around the world were fascinated by this technology, and the resulting coverage was found in print, television and online outlets.

OnStar is the only service provider to offer Stolen Vehicle Slow down capability. No other automotive manufacturer or service provider offers a manufacturer designed and factory installed stolen vehicle slowdown capability across a large percentage of its fleet.


Difficulty
What were the most important obstacles that had to be overcome in order for your work to be successful? Technical problems? Resources? Expertise? Organizational problems?
Due to the scope, size and importance of this project, the project team was faced with several challenges. First and foremost, this is the only program of its kind. Therefore, the level of complexity in creating the internal infrastructure to support Stolen Vehicle Slowdown was unprecedented. In addition to the technological aspects from an OnStar in-vehicle and IT perspective, this technology required integration with the vehicle’s Powertrain technology. This integration into the vehicle design process proved to be challenging in terms of meeting the development timing requirements while executing against an aggressive launch schedule.

Second, the scope of this project is such that it touched every strategic business unit within the OnStar organization. Therefore, a challenge existed in obtaining clear requirements that were agreed upon by all stakeholders across the enterprise. In addition to internal OnStar stakeholders, this was a joint project between OnStar and General Motors engineers who were responsible for the Powertrain module. As such, there was an additional layer of priorities, approvals and processes to which adherence was required.

Third, OnStar and General Motors jointly decided to implement this technology as an interim change within the 2009 Model Year on certain vehicles. From an implementation perspective it would have been much easier to roll out this technology starting with 2010 Model Year vehicles, but due to the societal benefits of the program, OnStar and General Motors opted to sacrifice that ease of implementation for speed to market. This decision ultimately created a much more complicated internal launch with additional impacts across the organization, including complex training and communications to the dealer channel.

Finally, a great deal of effort was made to create an appropriate system of checks and balances to ensure a flawless execution of this technology. This involved creating a robust verification process with several steps, including:
1. Ensuring the advisor who is initiating the slowdown can verify the key information about the vehicle, such as make, model and color, and can perform a flashing of the hazard lights.
2. Confirming that law enforcement officials have a clear line of sight on the correct vehicle.
3. Determining the proper cadence of events to ensure a timely execution once initiated.

Often the most innovative projects encounter the greatest resistance when they are originally proposed. If you had to fight for approval or funding, please provide a summary of the objections you faced and how you overcame them.
One important obstacle faced by OnStar and General Motors was initial resistance to this project by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). This government agency, whose primary concern is air pollution in the state of California, was apprehensive about this technology because it feared it would in some way interfere with the emissions monitoring systems of the vehicle while it was in slowdown mode. This concern was taken very seriously by the OnStar and General Motors engineering teams, and the due diligence was done to research the issue, implement some changes to the technology and mitigate the Board’s concerns. By working closely with this government agency and explaining the use case scenarios of Stolen Vehicle Slowdown in detail, CARB better understood the process and became comfortable with and supportive of this technology. This obstacle illustrates how unforeseen external factors can impact project implementation deadlines. The inquiry into the technology’s impact on emission monitoring systems required late design changes, which in turn posed a challenge to the speed to market. Due to the agility of both the technology and the project team, the necessary changes were made extremely quickly and the project met its deadline. Additionally, the resolution of this issue exemplifies the importance of ongoing communication between all parties involved in a project. Open communication between the vehicle team members and the OnStar team members was crucial in identifying this concern in a timely manner and taking the necessary steps to rectify the issue without compromising the integrity of the program.

Success
Has your project achieved or exceeded its goals?   Exceeded

Is it fully operational?   No

How do you see your project's innovation benefiting other applications, organizations, or global communities?
Stolen Vehicle Slowdown will affect multiple groups, not the least of which is everyday citizens who will benefit from the increased safety and security that this technology will afford them. As previously mentioned, Stolen Vehicle Slowdown has the ability to decrease the 300 fatalities, 7,500 injuries and 12,000 incidences of personal property damage that high-speed chases cause annually. There is no price that can be put on the life of someone saved or kept from harm as a result of this technology and no price that can be put on the relief of their loved ones.

The law enforcement community will be affected for the better because its members will have access to a technology that decreases the number and length of high-speed chases in which they must be involved. Their own personal safety will be protected, and they will be better equipped to handle incidents of vehicle theft and ensuing high-speed chases so they can increase the safety of others.

Emergency medical technicians and emergency care providers will also be affected for the better. They treat the innocent victims injured in high-speed chases and are usually the bearers of tragic news to the families of those whose lives were cut short because of reckless high-speed chases. Stolen Vehicle Slowdown reduces the number of vehicle theft and high-speed chase-related injuries and fatalities meaning the medical response community can focus its efforts elsewhere.

Vehicle theft rings will also be affected, but not for the better. This technology makes stealing a vehicle that much more unappealing, and it severely impacts the likelihood that the thief will be successful in his or her pursuit.


How quickly has your targeted audience of users embraced your innovation? Or, how rapidly do you predict they will?
Stolen Vehicle Slowdown will be available on two million 2009 Model Year GM vehicles. Research indicates that 95% of OnStar subscribers are interested in this opt-in service, and OnStar predicts it will perform at least 600 vehicle slowdowns in its first year after full production launch.

Because there is no additional cost to subscribers to use this technology and because a slowdown is initiated only with the cooperation and approval of law enforcement, there is little reason subscribers would not want the service. However, because we place such a high importance on the trust of our subscribers, should a subscriber wish to opt out of the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service, he or she may do so at any time, at no cost, and without affecting any other OnStar services. As a security precaution, if a subscriber wishes to reactive Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, a dealership’s service technician must perform the reactivation. We are confident that this service, like the many other enhancements OnStar continually implements, will be very well received among our subscriber base as well as those individuals in the market for a new vehicle.

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