Apple’s crash detection is a potentially life-saving feature, but five months after it was introduced with the iPhone 14, Apple Watch 8, and Apple Watch Ultra, it’s having some teething problems. a The New York Times (Opens in a new tab) A report from Colorado highlights problems facing emergency services.
Phones and wearables seem to mistake the rapid acceleration, quick turns and sharp stops that skaters make every day for car accidents and automatically call emergency services. The feature kicks in after ten seconds with no response, with the devices interpreting this as a sign that the owner is seriously injured and unable to call for help themselves.
In Summit County, the director of emergency services, Trina Dummer, told the paper that 185 false Apple incident detection calls were received in a nine-day period in January. Dommer believes that post-checks not only take away limited resources from other emergencies but can desensitize dispatchers.
I suggested that “Apple needs to put in their call center if this is a feature they want”.
Solve the problem
On the surface, this sounds a lot like last year’s stories about a roller coaster that triggered collision detection, but that’s a much trickier problem.
As roller coaster expert Brenden Walker told me last year, the unusual design of a thrill ride must be pretty frivolous to contend with. “Apple could simply add a line that says, ‘If you just climbed an incline of more than 45 degrees, or just made a 360-degree spin, ignore collision detection for the next 5 minutes’,” Proposal (Opens in a new tab).
“Of course, that might rule out some weather catastrophe, but if your plane is behaving like this, I think it will be too late.”
Skating is an entirely different issue, however, with the participants acting more like a vehicle than a roller coaster rider, with Average speed is between 20 and 40 miles per hour for recreational skaters (Opens in a new tab). What’s more, it’s hard to hear the loud sound made by the iPhone 14 or Apple Watch 8 before alerting emergency services on the ski slopes, where participants typically wear helmets, along with layers of thick clothing to counter the freezing conditions.
While Apple could theoretically blacklist calls from GPS coordinates at major parks, doing so for ski slopes could prevent actual accidents from being considered, given the risks involved in the sport.
In a statement to The New York Times, Apple spokesperson Alex Kirschner told the newspaper that the company has already made updates in order to “improve” the technology and reduce the number of false alerts.
But in the end, the company stands up for the technology: “Crash detection and fall detection are designed to help users when they need it most, and they’ve already saved many lives,” he says.
Meanwhile, both the ski slopes and the emergency services have come up with imperfect solutions of their own. Aspen Mountain put up signs asking Apple Watch and iPhone 14 users to update their software, while Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin simply chose not to prioritize robocalls from Apple devices. So far, this hasn’t resulted in any real overlooked emergencies—in part, because the ski slopes have plenty of witnesses to report problems.
Hopefully, Apple can improve the algorithms used to make this problem not a problem. Like the emergency SOS via satellite, fault detection is a potentially life-saving feature, and it would be a shame if its overzealous nature eventually turned it off.