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Emergency connections

(Guillermo Hernandez Martinez/The Springfield News-Leader/AP and iStock)

Technology

Emergency connections

New 911 technology provides first responders with automatic info

Americans make more than 240 million calls to the 911 emergency phone number each year. Yet, despite the ubiquity of cellular networks and the internet, many emergency response centers still rely on callers to provide location and other diagnostic information over the phone before dispatchers can determine how to respond.

Tech startup RapidSOS is attempting to solve this problem by integrating emergency services with connected devices such as smartphones, wearables, and onboard vehicle-connected emergency systems. Using the RapidSOS system, such devices can provide immediate information about a user’s location and emergency situation, even if the user cannot speak.

“Most emergency communication today uses infrastructure established between the 1960s and the 1980s, and it means that if you need 911 but can’t have a conversation you are in trouble. 911 doesn’t even know your name when you call,” Michael Martin, CEO and co-founder of RapidSOS, said in a TechCrunch interview. “But there is all this rich information today, and so our job is to help make that available when you really need it.”

The company partners with vehicle manufacturers and device- and app-makers such as Apple and Google to provide emergency workers with user location information, along with user-supplied data such as medical history or emergency contacts: When a person initiates an emergency call using a connected device or app—or when a connected vehicle detects a crash—RapidSOS’ software sends the info directly to the 911 system. The service is free for users of mobile devices.

Nationwide, more than 1,500 emergency 911 centers are already using RapidSOS applications, the company says.

Melanie Gonick/MIT

Melanie Gonick/MIT

Drone search and rescue

Searching for lost or stranded individuals in densely forested areas is time-consuming and difficult. Thick tree canopies hamper aerial observation, and GPS signals are often spotty or nonexistent for searchers working their way through the forest. But a small fleet of autonomous drones darting among the trees could cooperatively and quickly build 3D maps of a search area to aid rescuers—without the use of GPS.

In a paper presented in November at the International Symposium on Experimental Robotics, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology described a system in which a fleet of drones equipped with laser range finders systematically maps a search region using only onboard computation and wireless communication. They said they successfully tested their approach in a forested area of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

“Essentially, we’re replacing humans with a fleet of drones to make the search part of the search-and-rescue process more efficient,” said co-author Yulun Tian in a press release.

Tian noted that producing a 3D map is more efficient than simply equipping the drones with video cameras that require more bandwidth that may not be available in forested areas. —M.C.

Harley-Davidson

The LiveWire motorcyle (Harley-Davidson)

Ready to ride, millennials?

Harley-Davidson motorcycles, with their iconic look and trademark V-twin engine sound, have long been associated with a rebel image. But the millennial generation apparently hasn’t bought into the same style of riding as their baby-boomer parents.

In a major bid to appeal to a newer generation of riders, Harley-Davidson announced in November its first production electric motorcycle, the LiveWire. The model will go on sale next year at selected Harley dealerships.

Always sensitive to the unique sounds of its bikes, Harley designed the LiveWire “to produce a tone that increases in pitch and volume with speed, producing an exciting aural response to speed and acceleration,” according to the company’s website. —M.C.