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Apple iOS 12: iPhones to share more accurate location data with 911

Apple’s upcoming 911 feature relies on technology from RapidSOS, a New York startup. The approach developed by Apple and RapidSOS sends location data from an iPhone to a “clearinghouse” accessible to emergency calling centers.

tech Updated: Jun 19, 2018 11:04 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press
Associated Press
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With iOS 12 update, iPhone users who call 911 will be able to automatically share their exact location to the operators.(REUTERS)

Apple is trying to drag the US’s antiquated system for handling 911 calls into the 21st century. If it lives up to Apple’s promise, the iPhone’s next operating system will automatically deliver quicker and more reliable information pinpointing the location of 911 calls to about 6,300 emergency response centers in the US.

Apple is trying to solve a problem caused by the technological mismatch between a 50-year-old system built for landlines and today’s increasingly sophisticated smartphones.

An estimated 80% of roughly 240 million emergency calls in the US this year will come from mobile phones, most of which are capable of precisely tracking where their users are. Emergency calling centers, however, don’t get that detailed location information from mobile 911 calls. Instead, they get the location of the cellular tower transmitting the call, and must rely on other methods to figure out where the caller is.

That can take up precious time and often isn’t very accurate, especially when calls come from inside a building. Emergency responders are sometimes dispatched a mile or more away from a caller’s location.

Technology under the hood
Apple’s upcoming 911 feature relies on technology from RapidSOS, a New York startup. The approach developed by Apple and RapidSOS sends location data from an iPhone to a “clearinghouse” accessible to emergency calling centers. It also uses the HELO (Hybridized Emergency Location) platform which Apple launched in 2015. The platform “estimates a mobile 911 caller’s location using cell towers and on-device data sources like GPS and WiFi Access Points.”

Apple said it will “use emergency technology company RapidSOS’s Internet Protocol-based data pipeline to quickly and securely share HELO location data with 911 centers, improving response time when lives and property are at risk.”

Only the 911 calling centers will be able to see the data during the call, and none of it can be used for non-emergency purposes, according to Apple.

“911 telecommunicators do extraordinary work managing millions of emergencies with little more than a voice connection,” said RapidSOS CEO, Michael Martin. “We are excited to work with Apple to provide first responders a new path for accurate, device-based caller location using transformative Next Generation 911 technology.”

Adoption
Individual call centers will each have to embrace the technology required to communicate with the RapidSOS clearinghouse. Some centers already have the compatible software, according to Apple, but others will have to install upgrades to their existing software.

Apple expects calling centers for large metropolitan areas to upgrade more quickly than those in rural areas.

“The FCC requires carriers to locate callers to within 50 meters at least 80 percent of the time by 2021. iOS location services are capable of exceeding this requirement today, even in challenging, dense, urban environments. This new feature allows Apple to make these benefits available to local 911 centers now rather than years from now,” said the company on its website.

Tom Wheeler, a former chairman for the Federal Communications Commission, believes Apple’s new approach for locating 911 calls will set a new industry standard. “This is going to save a lot of lives,” said Wheeler, now a visiting professor at Harvard University. He said he hopes other phone makers will follow Apple’s lead.

The planned changes were announced Monday in Nashville, Tennessee during a 911 convention. They’ll be part of iOS 12, the next version of Apple’s iPhone software, which the company will release in September as a free update.

(with inputs from HT Correspondent)

First Published: Jun 19, 2018 10:47 IST