Apple execs explain, amid controversy

SubhamOctober 10, 2022
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Apple has explained more about how Crash Detection works, amid reports of the feature being triggered on rollercoaster rides. Two senior executives have said that reliably detecting a car crash is complicated.

The company says that it uses a wide variety of clues, including things as unlikely-seeming as Wi-Fi signals …


Crash Detection is one of the headline new features on the iPhone 14 and the latest Apple Watch models. It’s designed to detect when someone has been in a car crash, and ask them whether they need emergency services. If they fail to respond, the devices automatically dials 911 and reports the crash and its location.

The feature has shown variable reliability in crash tests carried out by reviewers.

However, one problem which has come to light is that the feature can be inadvertently activated when riding on a rollercoaster.

How Crash Detection works

TechCrunch spoke with vice president of sensing & connectivity, Ron Huang, and vice president of worldwide iPhone product marketing, Kaiann Drance.

Apple said that high G-forces are the biggest clue to a user being in a car crash, and that would explain why it would also be activated on rollercoaster rides, in which relatively high G-forces can be briefly experienced.

“It’s mostly the G Force detection,” says Drance. It’s able to detect G Force up to 256 Gs. That was one of the key differences for the new accelerometers that the new watches and phones have.”

But the company says that the whole area is a complex one, and there is “no silver bullet” in terms of a single, reliable indicator. Instead, the company combines a diverse range of signals to try to detect the crash.

Ultimately, the gyroscope and accelerometer are just two of the sensor pieces here. The list also includes the GPS to determine that the user is traveling at high speeds, the microphone to monitor for the sounds of a crash and the barometer, which detects the change in pressure that occurs when airbags are deployed. […]

“There’s no silver bullet, in terms of activating crash detection,” says Huang. “It’s hard to say how many of these things have to trigger, because it’s not a straight equation. Depending how fast the traveling speed was earlier, determines what signals we have to see later on, as well. Your speed change, combined with the impact force, combined with the pressure change, combined with the sound level, it’s all a pretty dynamic algorithm” […]

Bluetooth and Carplay are also used to determine that you’re in a car, though neither are strictly necessary for the feature. “On top of that, we added a lot of signals,” says Huang. “Whether it’s road noise or engine noise, we can see that. We can see that the Wi-Fi routers that you’re using are changing very rapidly — faster than if you’re walking or biking and so forth.”

Crash Detection can automatically use satellite SOS

Apple also said that the system has multiple ways to route emergency calls, which might be needed in remote areas. This includes automatically trying the satellite SOS capability.

Just like any 9-1-1 call, we would attempt to dial it first over your network. If your network is not available, we will try to route to any other available carrier, even if it’s not the carrier that you have with your SIM. When there’s no coverage, this will be linked to the emergency SOS via satellite feature. If you happen to get into an accident like that, and there’s absolutely no coverage where you are, we will still try to connect via satellite through the emergency SOS capability.

Trying other carriers is something all smartphones can do – any network will accept a 911 call from any cellphone – but the satellite option is unique to the iPhone 14.

Photo: Johannes Blenke/Unsplash

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