Vicara Motion Engine for Fall Detection — A Case Study

Aditi Shah
5 min readJun 2, 2021

Falling is an inevitable part of our lives. From the moment we start crawling, stumbling our way through childhood as toddlers, losing our balance on the bicycle as teenagers, while skidding and swerving as adults, and then finally as we lose our grip on the walking stick or wheelchair in our old age. With time, we’ve however always learned to climb back on our feet and tried to avoid the circumstances or actions that result in a fall, in the first place. But falls or accidents are mostly never in our control, right?

It’s not hard to believe that a country like India, with only 1% of the world’s vehicles, accounts for 11% of the global deaths in road accidents, which is the highest in the world. India registers about 4.5 lakh road crashes per annum, in which 1.5 lakh citizens lose their lives. The last decade witnessed 13 lakh deaths and 50 lakh road injuries on Indian roads. The 20129 World Bank Report puts the road crash and serious injury cost estimates at 7.5% of India’s GDP or Rs 12.9 lakh crore. Another not-so-surprising statistic as per the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is that 76.2% of people killed in road crashes are in their prime working-age of 18–45 years. This in turn results in a severe financial burden and can push the entire household into a crisis.

In a country like India, where vulnerable road users are compelled to share space with other less, vulnerable road users the income level of an individual also has a direct bearing on the mode of transport used. A majority of the Indian population, which comprises the middle-class prefer a two-wheeler in comparison with a four-wheeler — owing to a variety of reasons such as reliability, mileage, maneuverability, convenience, parking, and of course affordability. All of these factors have led to two-wheelers accounting for almost 70% of the total cities like Chennai, Jaipur, and Nagpur. At the same time, two-wheelers are 30x more prone to accidents than cars, and riders suffer a high rate of death and disability. Despite the gain in accessibility two-wheelers offer, they pose a danger to the rider and to others as they weave unpredictably through traffic, take over sidewalks, or park anywhere. Given people’s large dependence on these vehicles, the lack of well-designed supporting infrastructure that allows them to travel safely is a double whammy for users.

Adding onto these harrowing statistics is another harrowing fact which claims that almost 74% of Indians were unlikely to help an accident victim, whether alone or with bystanders. Seems unbelievable right? Surveys also show that in 10–20% of fatal accidents the police delay by 5 minutes or more in notifying an ambulance dispatcher. As per the 201st report of the Law Commission of India, 50% of road accident victims can be saved with timely medical care. As emergency care service in India remains limited and late, the faster the help arrives, the higher the chances are of survival. In fact, almost 90% of fatal injuries can be resolved if the victim is treated within the first hour of the injury.

So is there a solution to all of these problems? Is there a way in which help can be provided to an accident victim at the earliest?

Yes, there definitely is. At Vicara, we devised a solution that resolves these very specific issues, for one of the world’s largest helmet manufacturers. We did this by developing a tiny device that could be easily retrofitted into their existing helmets and could also fit right into the design of the new helmets they would design in the future. The best part about the entire solution is, it fits right quite conveniently into the helmets without having to make any significant changes to the helmets in terms of weight, size, or shape.

The company approached us with the demand for enhancing the safety and security features that its helmet offers for its users. They wanted a simple yet succinct solution, that wouldn’t lead to a substantial modification in their product, but at the same time would fulfill their criteria of facilitating timely help to the rider, when needed. Keeping in mind the socio-economic backgrounds, feasibility integration, and scope of customizability they were looking for a product that would be easy, efficient, and effective.

So how does the module exactly work?

Well, the mechanism is quite simple. To start with, the device which is basically a small module is placed within the helmets. What truly powers its functioning is the VME (Vicara Motion Engine). The VME is a platform-independent firmware stack that leverages data from motion engines to accurately identify motion with minimal processor & memory requirements. The device contains a Bluetooth sensor and an IMU (Inertial measurement unit) which consists of an accelerometer and a gyroscope.

Now the entire solution comprises the device and an app it can communicate with. The app has to be installed on the mobile phone of the user. Once installed, the user has to key in the emergency contact details, a few details about the medical history, and some general information.

When a rider meets with an accident, the device immediately detects a fall with the help of the accelerometer in the IMU and triggers the emergency response on the app via Bluetooth. The user can customize the time period i.e seconds elapsed after the incident, for the notification to be triggered. In this case, we’d kept 30 seconds after the crash as the duration, following which a message is sent out to the emergency contacts notifying them about the accident, with the site details. The device also ensures that emergency services are alerted, along with all the details of the victim.

In case of a false alarm, the system also allows an option of manually overriding by hitting the “STOP” button. The device, coupled with the app, offers endless customizations — it can be directly integrated onto the bike, can also be fitted into a car, can be strapped onto the wrist, or even encapsulated in a pendant. In this specific case, the company had chosen the option of an add-on integration with their helmets, so a simple device and an app fit perfectly well for their requirements.

The entire solution not only helps the facilitation of timely aid but also ensures that many lives are saved in case of accidents. Over time, it has been well established that the person’s chances of survival are greatest if they receive care within a short period of time after an injury, so at the end of the day it all comes down to whether you receive the help you require just in time before it gets too late.