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Notebook Technology

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

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


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.

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Courtesy of Cell-Ed

(Courtesy of Cell-Ed)


English on the go

Mobile learning apps could help workers or immigrants hone language and literacy skills

A new category of mobile learning apps seeks to help the large segment of the American labor force that struggles with literacy skills.

More than half of the workforce reads at less than the sixth-grade level, and many are illiterate, according to Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami, the founder and CEO of Cell-Ed, a mobile learning platform targeting low-skill workers.

“When you talk about adult literacy, it sounds like you’re referring to a few folks who fell through the cracks, but that’s not the case at all,” she told Fast Company. “It’s a hidden epidemic.”

Cell-Ed and another application called Learning Upgrade—which teaches English and math using songs, video games, and rewards—were among five finalists for the $7 million Adult Literacy X Prize, sponsored by the Barbara Bush Foundation.

Users of the Cell-Ed app don’t need a computer or smartphone, just a phone that can text. Once logged on, they can access learning modules on subjects that include English as a second language, reading, writing, math, and more. The short “micro-lessons” last no longer than three minutes, allowing users to fit them in to work or home schedules. Cell-Ed coaches, available around the clock via text or phone, offer additional support to learners.

Several studies have backed up Cell-Ed’s approach. A 2014 assessment by the Center for Global Development found the app improved reading levels an equivalent of two to four years in a four-month period.

“I was a little skeptical at first,” said Kyle Teague, the learning and development manager at the Four Seasons in Silicon Valley—one of six Four Seasons hotels across the nation participating in a Cell-Ed pilot program with 100 Spanish-speaking housekeepers. “It has enabled them to speak with guests comfortably,” Teague told Fast Company. “There is a change in their confidence level.”

Cell-Ed charges nonprofit and government clients an annual license fee of $50 per user. For corporate clients, the cost is less than $10 per user, per month.

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A worker using an augmented reality headset (Handout)


Headset manuals

Augmented reality boosts high-tech manufacturing

Building a spacecraft is not a job for mass production. Aerospace workers painstakingly assemble each spacecraft one at a time, traditionally following thousand-plus-page technical manuals. But Lockheed Martin—the prime contractor building NASA’s next generation Orion spacecraft—is ditching the paper manuals and equipping its technicians with augmented reality (AR) headsets.

The Microsoft Hololens headsets allow workers to view their section of the spacecraft overlaid with holographic models based on the engineering design drawings. The models display parts and labels right on top of the partially assembled spacecraft, to include detailed instructions for tasks such as torquing bolts positioned right over the relevant holes.

Technicians have embraced the new technology, but the current generation of AR headsets is still too bulky to wear for more than about three hours at a time.

“At the start of the day, I put on the device to get accustomed to what we will be doing in the morning,” spacecraft technician Decker Jory told MIT Technology Review. Jory and his team take the headsets off when they are ready to start drilling.

Lockheed expanded its use of augmented reality after tests showed that technicians needed much less time to familiarize themselves with new tasks as well as correctly execute processes such as drilling holes and twisting fasteners.

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