Future iPhones may act as emergency beacons even without cell service

Posted:
in General Discussion
A new patent describes multiple ways in which an iPhone could use cell signals, wi-fi or even other nearby devices to get an emergency distress beacon out, plus ways of prolonging the battery until rescue arrives.

Future iPhones may switch off the screen to save power and broadcast an emergency signal
Future iPhones may switch off the screen to save power and broadcast an emergency signal


Existing iPhones are able to alert the authorities on command, but Apple is planning new ways to help users in areas where regular cellphone coverage is either unavailable or problematic. A new Emergency Power Save Mode (EPSM) will be able to broadcast a distress signal in multiple different ways while also minimizing battery use in order to keep the device working until the user is rescued.

"Mobile electronic devices may take the form of smart phones or tablets that a user typically carries," begins Apple in US Patent No 20200015169, "Enhanced Emergency Beacon Sending Procedure".

"These and other devices may be carried by users in remote locations and a user may desire to broadcast an emergency beacon in a location that is not covered by cellular service," it continues.

Apple intends its procedures to become as much of a universal standard as possible, to the extent that the patent describes it being implemented on devices from PlayStation Portable to smart glasses and Android phones. Apple refers to all of these devices as User Equipment (UE).

"[The] UE may be configured to broadcast an emergency beacon in response to user input," says the patent. "For example, a user may become lost or injured while hiking and may use an emergency beacon broadcast feature to notify other users or base stations in the area... and as described in greater detail below, the emergency beacon broadcast feature may operate as an off-grid radio service (OGRS) when the UE does not have an active connection to a base station or other wireless access point."

There are broadly two elements to the procedure in the patent, starting with power saving.

"If a user of a UE is in a dire situation or another situation that would benefit from emergency beacon broadcasting or beacon broadcasting in general, a significant amount of time may pass before a broadcast emergency beacon is successfully received by another user or a base station and help is mobilized to assist the user," it says.

"For example, a user in a remote rural location may not be within a communicatively effective distance from other UEs or base stations capable of receiving the emergency beacon. As such, it may be desirable for the UE to be able to broadcast emergency beacons over an extended period of time, to increase the likelihood of a successful reception of the broadcast," it continues.

Detail from the patent showing that the screen is the first thing to be switched off in order to save power in emergencies
Detail from the patent showing that the screen is the first thing to be switched off in order to save power in emergencies


Since such a user is unlikely to have access to power to recharge the battery, Apple says the power level "may potentially reduce the chance that the emergency beacon is successfully broadcast and received before the battery is drained."

Under Apple's proposed system, a user could elect to manually turn on the Emergency Power Save Mode. Or could choose beforehand to have it be automatically turned on when the battery falls below a specified amount.

In either case, once enabled, the EPSM would switch off the display, one of the biggest drains on battery life. The patent details the different power demands of the display, backlighting and "various other processes... over Wi-Fi and... GPS."

"[EPSM will] preserve battery while enabling emergency beacon broadcasting through efficient handling of the display of the device and radio frequency (RF) signaling."

The second part of the procedure involves how the emergency signal is broadcast. That includes attempting to locate and use a nearby cell service or local wi-fi network.

"[Alternatively,] emergency beacon may be an off-grid radio service (OGRS) device-to-device (D2D) communication. For example, the UE may broadcast an emergency beacon according to existing D2D communication protocols," says the patent. "The emergency beacon may be receivable by other UEs and/or by base stations."

The patent is credited to eight inventors, many of whom such as Lydi Smaini, Tarik Tabet and Mohit Narang, have prior filings for Apple surrounding inventions concerning signal transmission, and power consumption.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,471member
    Great idea.  Hopefully the Watch could do this too at some point.
    caladanian
  • Reply 2 of 11
    If I set it to “automatically turned on when the battery falls below a specified amount” the cops would be showing up at my place several times a month.

    Wifi I have disabled, until I manually turn it on.  Will EPSM turn it on without my input?

    Wifi burns though battery life like nobody’s business (searching) when the signal is weak or non existent... sounds like a problem if the goal is to extend battery (emergency signal life).

    Boosting the (emergency) signal beyond what is normally legally allowed, seems more useful... then repeat the EPSM transmission periodically.
    caladanian
  • Reply 3 of 11
    I really hope it can broadcast to something, somewhere where I hunt. There is no cell service with lots of valleys and canyons. About the only way the signal would be seen is if it has some sort of satellite connection. Maybe these new mini sats Amazon, SpaceX and and others are sending up would be the hookup?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 11
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,471member
    respencer said:
    I really hope it can broadcast to something, somewhere where I hunt. There is no cell service with lots of valleys and canyons. About the only way the signal would be seen is if it has some sort of satellite connection. Maybe these new mini sats Amazon, SpaceX and and others are sending up would be the hookup?
    Yes, your answer could well be coming from Elon Musk.  I hope you hunt for food you desperately need not for the enjoyment of killing innocent animals, if so seek help.  BTW I hunt too, with a 200-600mm Sony G lens that harms nothing, you should try it.
    edited January 2020 OnPartyBusiness
  • Reply 5 of 11
    MacPro said:
    respencer said:
    I really hope it can broadcast to something, somewhere where I hunt. There is no cell service with lots of valleys and canyons. About the only way the signal would be seen is if it has some sort of satellite connection. Maybe these new mini sats Amazon, SpaceX and and others are sending up would be the hookup?
    Yes, your answer could well be coming from Elon Musk.  I hope you hunt for food you desperately need not for the enjoyment of killing innocent animals, if so seek help.  BTW I hunt too, with a 200-600mm Sony G lens that harms nothing, you should try it.
    I hunt at my local Costco.  But, as long as you eat what you hunt, I see little difference.
    OnPartyBusiness
  • Reply 6 of 11
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member
    I've been waiting for this tech since the before the iPhone existed. This can't come soon enough.
    OnPartyBusinesswatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 11
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member
    respencer said:
    I really hope it can broadcast to something, somewhere where I hunt. There is no cell service with lots of valleys and canyons. About the only way the signal would be seen is if it has some sort of satellite connection. Maybe these new mini sats Amazon, SpaceX and and others are sending up would be the hookup?
    My assumption is that it uses the same underlying tech as the rumoured Apple Tiles and new options to locate (and disable) Apple devices that are neither connected to cellular or WiFI. Effectively it's crowd-sourced BT securely hopping between devices. If you're in a valley and there isn't another person around then it's not likely to get an emergency beacon to another device to let them know you're in trouble.
    bonobob
  • Reply 8 of 11
    macguimacgui Posts: 2,127member
    If I set it to “automatically turned on when the battery falls below a specified amount” the cops would be showing up at my place several times a month.
    WTF? Why would you put an emergency beacon on standby at 'your place'? That would be a dumbass move when you could just CALL somebody for whatever help you need.

    Good money says the emergency beacon is for use when well off the beaten path or 'in areas where regular cellphone coverage is either unavailable or problematic'. Likely in such a situation you could fire up the beacon manually when in distress such as lost or injured or enable it to auto engage while you fumble you way around, it case the battery usage isn't monitored. Trying to enable the distress beacon when the phone is at 6% might be an issue.

    Makes me laugh when a patent is filed with enough basic information to get it granted, and some genius try's to poke holes in the plan before it's even a thing. 

    You should get a job at Apple and teach those engineers a thing or two. Start with how you can boost power output without depleting the battery sooner. Because no doubt Apple engineers never considered intermittent transmissions to prolong battery life.


    respencer said:
    I really hope it can broadcast to something, somewhere where I hunt. There is no cell service with lots of valleys and canyons. About the only way the signal would be seen is if it has some sort of satellite connection. Maybe these new mini sats Amazon, SpaceX and and others are sending up would be the hookup?
    The reason it's being billed as a beacon is because of the lack of cell service. Typically a personal beacon is used to help SAR teams find someone. They don't necessarily make a connection; someone comes looking for them starting with a last known location. Depending on who they're looking for, they may or may not expect to find a beacon signal in the area.

    With Elon's proposed legion of satellites  and the recent rumor of Apple working on some kind of satellite communication, maybe this will be a thing. This could be a great thing, but I don't see it happening anytime soon.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 11
    This isn’t in any way connected to the other great thought of making a sort of mesh wireless connection between many phones when in a large area no cellular connection is available?
    dinoonewatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 11
    As seen in Ridley Scott's "Alien" movie series...
    edited January 2020 watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 11
    This isn’t in any way connected to the other great thought of making a sort of mesh wireless connection between many phones when in a large area no cellular connection is available?
    I.m.o. this is also connected to the U1 location chip in the iPhone 11 lineup and to the Apple Tags feature in iOS 13.
    watto_cobra
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