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Short Paper: VSSo - A Vehicle Signal and
Benjamin Klotz1,2[0000−0002−9008−2120] , Rapha¨el Troncy1 [0000−0003−0457−1436],
Daniel Wilms2[0000−0002−0451−0265] , and Christian Bonnet1[0000−0002−3733−7227]
1EURECOM, Sophia Antipolis, France
2BMW Research, New Technologies, Innovation, Munich, Germany
Abstract. Application developers in the automotive domain have to
deal with thousands of diﬀerent signals, represented in highly hetero-
geneous formats, and coming from various car architectures. This sit-
uation prevents the development and connectivity of modern applica-
tions. We hypothesize that a formal model of car signals, in which the
deﬁnition of signals are uncorrelated with the physical implementations
producing them, would improve interoperability. In this paper, we pro-
pose VSSo, a car signal ontology that derives from the automotive stan-
dard VSS, and that follows the SSN/SOSA pattern for representing
observations and actuations. This ontology is comprehensive while be-
ing extensible for OEMs, so that they can use additional private sig-
nals in an interoperable way. We developed a simulator for interact-
ing with data modeled under the VSSo ontology pattern available at
Keywords: ontology, automotive, signal, sensor, VSS
Current and future automotive applications rely on the ability to manage highly
heterogeneous data. In this context, vehicle data needs to be interoperable in
order to be handled by remote applications and services regardless of the brand,
model, and internal network architecture of each connected vehicle. This is ac-
tually challenging today as a developer needs deep insights into the architecture
of a vehicle3in order to have access and to process data coming from a vehi-
cle signal. In addition, information about signal metadata is needed in order
to interpret the returned values. As soon as the internal architecture changes,
the developer has to update the implementation and will need the same prior
knowledge. This might be the case already with diﬀerent models of the same
We propose to use semantic technologies for addressing the challenge of deﬁn-
ing a formal model of car signals . Many ontologies have been developed
2 B. Klotz et al.
in order to solve problems in the automotive domain. In 2003,  proposed
an ontology-based data access for car.  describes the relationship between
components, failures and their symptoms.  proposes an automotive ontology
describing the user’s actions and car context. More generally, several research
projects proposed ontology-based representation of some car context to provide
advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) [12, 1,8, 11,7], but they are not com-
plete or extensible, nor they are automotive standards.
W3C and OGC have developed standards for deﬁning systems with their
signals. The Semantic Sensor Network4(SSN) ontology  is an ontology for
describing sensors and their observations, as well as actuators and actuations.
SSN follows a horizontal and vertical modularization architecture by including a
lightweight but self-contained core ontology called SOSA5 (Sensor, Observa-
tion, Sample, and Actuator) for its elementary classes and properties, that was
released in October 2017. Both SSN and SOSA are domain independent.
We therefore observe a gap between the need for data interoperability and the
current state of the art in terms of car modeling. We see a need for an ontology
focusing on car signals and sensors. We also identify another requirement: such
an ontology should be compliant with automotive standard such as the Vehicle
Signal Speciﬁcation (VSS)6or follow best modeling practices in order to be
used. We require such an ontology to be comprehensive enough to cover most
known signals while being extensible by OEMs. The remainder of this paper is
structured as follow. First, we list our requirements in Section 2. We describe how
we have converted the VSS automotive standard into an ontology in Section 3.
We evaluate it in Section 4. Finally we conclude and describe future work in
A good car signal ontology should enable a web developer to query and extract
knowledge from a car signal database with no deep expertise in the automotive
domain. In this section, we deﬁne a set of competency questions7, which we will
later use as a mean of evaluating the produced ontology.
There is a need to deﬁne a number of static properties or attributes describing
either a complete vehicle or its parts. For instance:
–How many attributes does a car have?
–What is the model and release date of this car?
–What are the dimensions of this car?
–What type of transmission does this car have?
–How many doors or seats does this car have?
7The full list of questions is available at https://github.com/klotzbenjamin/vss-
Short Paper: VSSo - A Vehicle Signal and Attribute Ontology 3
–On which side is located the steering wheel in this car?
A car contains numerous sensors that produce signals. We need to be able
to retrieve metadata about those sensors and signals. For instance:
–Is there a signal measuring the steering wheel angle?
–Which signals are both observable and actuable?
–How many diﬀerent speedometers does this car contain?
–What unit type does the signal vss:VehicleYaw use?
–What are the maximum values allowed for all signals from a Vehicle?
–Which signals measure a temperature and in which part are they located in
Car sensors will generate a lot of values that depend on time and space. One
should be able to query the current values of the signals as well as past historical
ones. This leads to additional competency questions:
–What is the current gear?
–Which windows are currently open?
–What is the local temperature on the driver side now?
We hypothesize that the generic modeling patterns deﬁned in the SSN/-
SOSA ontology  is adequate to describe observations and that an additional
vocabulary is needed to deﬁne the speciﬁc terms in the automotive domain.
3 Development of VSSo
We developed VSSo, a vehicle signal ontology based on the GENIVI and W3C
standard data model VSS (Vehicle Signal Speciﬁcation). The ontology is avail-
able at https://github.com/klotzbenjamin/vss-ontology/.
The Vehicle Signal Speciﬁcation deﬁnes a tree containing 451 Branches, 43 At-
tributes and 1060 Signals that aim to represent car data. The speciﬁcation states
–Branches are car parts or components. They are represented as nodes in the
VSS tree. Branches can contain other branches or signals and attributes.
–Attributes are the static information about a car. They are represented as
leaves in the VSS tree and deﬁned by a path starting with “Attribute” de-
scribing its position in the VSS tree. For instance, the VIN is Attribute.Ve-
hicle.VehicleIdentification.VIN. They also have entries such as a de-
scription, a type, a unit or restrictions on values.
–Signals are the dynamic information about a car that is either produced by a
sensor or consumed by an actuator. For instance, Signal.Drivetrain.Trans-
mission.Speed is the car speed, measured in the Transmission branch. Sig-
nals, like attributes, have entries providing a description, a type, and poten-
tially a unit and restrictions on values.
4 B. Klotz et al.
In its original form, VSS did not contain information about sensors or ac-
tuators. In order to describe the diﬀerence between signals measuring the same
phenomenon with diﬀerent sensors, we added new entries in VSS signals. We
also clariﬁed the concepts names and choices of units. Those corrections have
been approved by GENIVI and are now part of evolution of this standard.
3.2 General modeling pattern
The general idea behind the design of the VSS ontology is to reuse the pattern
of VSS. All branches are sub-branches of bigger branches. Therefore, we reuse it
in a component-based pattern using subclasses of vss:Branch linked with the
transitive object property vss:partOf. This means that a VSS Branch is used to
generate a new class, and the parent branch is attached to it with a vss:partOf
property (Listing 1.1).
Listing 1.1. vss:Drivetrain is an example of a generated class part of vss:Vehicle
v s s : D r i v e t r a i n a r d f s : C la s s , o wl : C l a s s ;
r d f s : s u bC l as s Of v s s : Br an ch ;
r d f s : s u bC l as s O f [ a owl : R e s t r i c t i o n ;
ow l : onProp e r t y v s s : p a r t O f ;
ow l : a l lV a l u e sF r o m v s s : V e h i c l e ] ;
r d f s : l a b e l ” D r i v e t r a i n ” @en ;
r d f s : c ommen t ” D r i v e t r a i n . A l l bo dy co m po ne nt s ”@en .
It also reuses the sets of entries deﬁning VSS concepts. Indeed, attributes,
branches and signals are all deﬁned by at least a name, a type and a description.
These entries allow the generation of one class per VSS concept, with a RDFS
label and comment. Attributes and signals also have additional entries, such as
a unit, or a set of potential values and a sensor or actuator. All these entries
deﬁne the speciﬁc details of an attribute or signal (Listing 1.2).
Listing 1.2. vss:AmbientAirTemperature is a signal measured by a vss:Thermometer
v s s : A mb ie nt Ai rT em p er at ur e a r d f s : C l a ss , o wl : C l a s s ;
r d f s : s u b Cl a s s O f v s s : O b s e r v a b l e S i g n a l ;
r d f s : l a b e l ” A mb ie nt Ai rT em pe ra tu re ” @en ;
r d f s : comme nt ” S i g n a l . V e h i c l e . A mb ie n tA i rT em p er at u re :
Am bie nt a i r t em p er a tu r e ”@en ;
r d f s : s u bC l as s O f [ a ow l : R e s t r i c t i o n ;
ow l : o n Pr o p er t y s o s a : i s Ob s e rv e d By ;
ow l : a l l Va l u e s Fr o m v s s : Th er mo me ter ] ;
r d f s : s u bC l as s O f [ a ow l : R e s t r i c t i o n ;
ow l : o nP r o p er t y q ud t : u n i t ;
ow l : allValues Fr om qud t : T emper ature Unit ] .
We generate a datatype property for each VSS attribute which are sub-
properties of a generic vss:attribute datatype property. All those attributes
being static, there is no need to model them using a dynamic pattern. VSS
Short Paper: VSSo - A Vehicle Signal and Attribute Ontology 5
attributes are attached to VSS branches which is materialized in the domain of
those properties, while their range makes use of a custom datatype (Listing 1.3).
Listing 1.3. vss:tankCapacity is an attribute of the vss:FuelSystem branch
vs s : t a n k C apacity a ow l : Dat a t y p e Prope rty ;
r d f s : s u bP ro p er t yO f v s s : a t t r i b u t e ;
r d f s : l a b e l ” T an kC ap ac it y” @en ;
r d f s : comme nt ” A t t r i b u t e . D r i v e t r a i n . F ue l Sy s te m . Ta n kC ap a ci ty :
Capa ci ty o f the f u el tank i n l i t e r s ”@en ;
r d f s : do ma in v s s : F u el Sy st e m ;
r d f s : r a ng e c d t : v ol um e .
Signals, however, are going to be observed over time and space and there is a
need for a dynamic modeling pattern. We take advantage of the SSN/SOSA pat-
tern for modeling sensors, actuators, observable and actuatable properties, ob-
servations and actuations. SOSA uses the triplets (Observation, ObservableProp-
erty, Sensor) to model this. Observations contextualize the data with properties
such as sosa:FeatureOfInterest (e.g. a car), the sosa:(Simple)Result as
well as sosa:phenomenonTime and geo:lat,geo:long for the spatiotemporal
context of the Observation. An equivalent pattern exist for actuations in SOSA.
SSN/SOSA does not deﬁne a unique unit ontology, but it is open to use
multiple ones. In order to remain open, we only set restrictions on unit systems
in the QUDT ontology8 and let the user choose the units freely.
3.3 Modeling problems and new VSS policies
Several exceptions and issues prevent the trivial generation of a healthy ontology
Concept disambiguation. VSS relies on a full path to deﬁne an attribute or a
signal. For instance Signal.Drivetrain.Engine.Speed, is clearly the rotation
speed of the engine while Signal.Cabin.Infotainment.Navigation.Current-
Location.Speed is the vehicle speed measured by the GPS. However they would
both generate a class vss:Speed if we would take the leaf of the tree as the base
concepts. Therefore, VSS concepts are renamed for clariﬁcation. In this example,
vss:EngineSpeed and vss:VehicleSpeed are actually created. Sometimes, two
diﬀerent paths in the VSS tree actually refer to the same concept. For example,
the signal Signal.Drivetrain.Transmission.Speed also measures the speed
of the car according to the gearbox. The class vss:VehicleSpeed is here unique.
Its instances diﬀer given the sensors that will produce the values and the branch
hosting the sensor (Fig. 1).
Signals are observable, actuatable or both. We deﬁne two main signal classes in
the VSS ontology: vss:ObservableSignal, as a subclass of sosa:Observable-
Property, and vss:ActuatableSignal subclass of sosa:ActuatableProperty.
6 B. Klotz et al.
Fig. 1. Two signals representing the same concept: the vehicle speed
All signals in VSS are subclasses of at least one of them. Many signals are
subclasses of both. The choice of making a signal observable or actuatable is
based on the existence of the sensor and actuator entries of each VSS Signal.
We also deﬁne a sosa:Sensor for all sosa:ObservableProperty and a
sosa:Actuator for all sosa:ActuatableProperty. These sensors and actua-
tors are as technology-independent as possible, as their physical instances vary
from one OEM to another. Some signals relate to complex systems such as the
infotainment system where there are no physical sensors or actuators. In this
case, a virtual system deﬁnes the sensor/actuator producing and consuming the
All branches are vss:partOf vss:Vehicle.The path deﬁning attributes and
signals begins with the top element of the tree, being either “Attribute” or
“Signal”. The modeling choice would require the top branch to be the complete
vehicle that contains all branches. There is, nevertheless, a branch among the
top one called “Vehicle” containing attributes and signals about the full vehicle,
such as its VIN. We take this branch as the top one containing all other branches.
Position-related concepts are not branches. In VSS, the path to certain at-
tributes and signals contains the position of certain branches. This is especially
the case for elements that exist multiple times within one car, such as doors,
seats and mirrors. For instance, there are signals Door.Left.IsLocked and
Mirror.Right.Tilt. It is not desired to have classes deﬁning “left” and “right”.
We decide to model the hosting branches with a property vss:position. This
deﬁnes instances of such branches with the correct positions and still refer to a
unique class. Using the same example, a door instance would have vss:position
vss:Left and the mirror instance a vss:position vss:Right.
Short Paper: VSSo - A Vehicle Signal and Attribute Ontology 7
In order to evaluate the coverage of the VSS ontology, we tried to write SPARQL
queries for all competency questions described in the Section 2. We also generate
synthetic traces data using the VSSo ontology. Here are simple examples of such
What are the attributes of the chassis?
SELECT ? a t t r i b u t e ? v a l u e
? a t t r i b u t e r d f s : s u bP ro p er t yO f vs s : a t t r i b u t e .
? b ra nc h ? a t t r i b u t e ? v a l ue ;
a v s s : C h as s i s .
What is the current gear?
SELECT ? s i g n a l ? r e s u l t ? t i me
? s i g n a l a v s s : Ge ar .
? o bs a s o s a : O b s e r v at i o n ;
s o sa : o b se r ve d P ro p er t y ? s i g n a l ;
s os a : h as S im p l eR e su l t ? r e s u l t ;
s o s a : phe nom eno nTi me ? t im e .
ORDER BY DESC( ? ti me )
VSSo ﬁts our requirements of being based on an automotive standard and se-
mantically enriching car data. Furthermore, with more than 300 diﬀerent signals
and 50 attributes, VSSo deﬁnes more concepts than all ontologies, vocabularies
and schemata from the state of the art, making it more complete. Finally, be-
cause VSSo is based on a speciﬁcation meant to be extended, it is also easy to
extend. In order to do so, a developer can directly use VSSo and its patterns to
create new attributes, branches and signals. Another solution consists in writ-
ing the VSS extension in VSS format, and generate a new ontology. However,
this second solution requires a step of validation afterwards. We extended the
generator9with a simple health check script. For instance, an OEM can deﬁne
a private signal for a new embedded camera. In order to use it, a developer will
deﬁne this camera as part of the VSSo extension in a new namespace.
5 Conclusion and Future Work
In this paper, we identiﬁed a gap in formal deﬁnition of car signals and sen-
sors. We used some best practices both from the Semantic Web community and
the automotive standards to propose VSSo, an ontology developed on top of
8 B. Klotz et al.
the SSN/SOSA recommendation. This new formal representation of car signals
and attributes allows semantic queries. Various applications can beneﬁt from
this ontology, such as car ﬂeet monitoring, car trajectory mining, contextual
representation of a car and interaction between any car and web services.
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