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2 Nov, 2021 16:50

Apple's 'crash detection' will dial 911 when it thinks you're in an accident – reports

Apple's 'crash detection' will dial 911 when it thinks you're in an accident – reports

Apple's iPhone will soon be able to detect vehicle crashes and call 911 emergency, documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal suggest, taking the device's motion-sensing capabilities to a smarter (and more intrusive) level.

The tech giant plans to debut its "crash detection" feature next year with the new generation of iPhones and Apple Watches, according to documents the Wall Street Journal reviewed on Tuesday. The devices will use sensors including the accelerometer to detect car accidents by measuring a sudden spike in g-forces (gravity) concurrent with impact. 

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Apple has been building out its motion-sensing features in the name of safety for years now, recently deploying a "fall-detection" feature for the Apple Watch that dials 911 if the wearer doesn't respond to a notification asking if they are okay following a "hard fall" – though it's not clear what distinguishes a "hard" fall from a mild stumble.

Another feature added this year assesses the "walking steadiness" of the user, supposedly with the ability to gauge whether one is at risk of falling within a 12-month period. It even offers "strength-building exercises" for users whose steadiness scores come back low, suggesting that a few Siri-guided leg lifts now will spare the iPhone owner a debilitating hip injury years down the road. However, health professionals have warned that such exercises are no substitute for seeing a doctor.

Privacy-conscious iPhone owners might be dismayed to learn that the company has been collecting data shared "anonymously" from both the phone and Apple Watch users in order to build up its knowledge of car crashes, reportedly detecting 10 million "suspected vehicle impacts." Just 50,000 of those were followed up with a 911 call. Such a small percentage might seem to indicate that Apple users don't necessarily want their crash to trigger a call to emergency services - or it might indicate that the user is too badly injured to make the call themselves. The documents don't specify how Apple users are sharing the information with the company but, given there is no "report car crash to Apple" button anywhere in the apps that come pre-installed on the iPhone, such sharing is unlikely to be voluntary.

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Apple wouldn't be the first to turn its smartphones into wannabe first-responders. Google's Pixel added such a feature in 2019, and several apps in Apple's app store claim to offer automatic crash detection via AI and location tracking. General Motors' OnStar also claims to have offered "automatic crash response" since 1996 and recently beefed up its product with a subscription smartphone app providing so-called "mobile crash response."

But the tech behemoth seemingly hopes to integrate its crash detection into a whole suite of health monitoring features to come with future models, most of which seem to invade the user's privacy in one way or another but which promise to offset such probing concerns by offering early detection of health issues like dementia and depression. However, given recent concerns about Apple's growing affinity for pawing through users' Cloud content – supposedly in the name of rooting out child exploitation – it's not clear whether customers would trust the megacorporation to dig through their thoughts – or monitor their driving skills.

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