Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
As mobile phones and watches play larger roles as health monitoring devices, manufacturers are adding features designed to make it easier to call for help in the event of a medical emergency or accident. In some cases, devices are able to make those calls automatically.
That’s the idea behind a new crash detection feature added to Apple Inc.’s latest generation of iPhones and Apple Watches. Sensors record motion and other data to determine when a user is in a severe car crash, which then prompts a call to 911 with the location and other details.
But the system has led to false alarms, most recently in the mountains of British Columbia. Skiers and snowmobilers in the backcountry and at resorts have inadvertently triggered their devices’ crash detection feature.
As Carrie Tait reports, the system appears to have caused at least four false alarms last weekend alone.
The most serious happened in a remote area near Golden, B.C., where an iPhone bouncing around in a snowmobile glovebox detected a collision. Apple, in turn, alerted local emergency officials, who dispatched a helicopter for an operation that the local search-and-rescue group estimated cost $10,000.
When the backcountry search came up empty, RCMP officers in the snowmobiler’s hometown in Alberta went door-knocking to find more information. Eventually, officials found the phone’s owner, who was perfectly fine but embarrassed.
There were two false alarms on the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort last weekend, and another incident near Trail, B.C., where a device belonging to a skier at a resort mistakenly alerted the RCMP to a crash that hadn’t occurred.
Apple pushed out a software update this week designed to improve the crash detection system, but the company did not explain what exactly had changed, or how those changes would reduce false alarms. Software release notes say only that the updates include “crash detection optimizations” for iPhone 14 and 14 Pro models.
Apple declined to comment.
The British Columbia Search and Rescue Association met with Apple on Wednesday for what was originally intended to be a discussion about the company’s SOS system, which can connect to satellites to call for help when a user is out of cellphone range. BCSARA manager Dwight Yochim said those in attendance also talked about the crash detection feature. The association is now urging users to update their devices.
There have been other examples of Apple devices incorrectly detecting crashes. Rides at amusement parks in the United States set off Apple’s crash detection system in September, prompting some parks to urge visitors to put their devices on airplane mode before buckling in.
Another wave of unnecessary 911 calls rolled in when ski hills opened south of the border.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.