Apple announced today that the next version of the iOS operating system —iOS 12— would automatically and securely share a caller's geo-location with 911 emergency services across the US.
The goal is to give 911 call centers quick access to location data in extreme cases where the caller cannot relay this information on his own.
To do this, Apple says iOS 12 will use two technologies. The first is HELO (Hybridized Emergency Location), a system that Apple developed and launched in 2015. HELO works by estimating a 911 caller's location using cell towers and on-device data sources like GPS and WiFi Access Points.
The second technology is a custom Internet-based protocol developed by RapidSOS, a US-based startup. This protocol's purpose is to quickly and securely share HELO location data with 911 call centers.
RapidSOS' protocol is already integrated with many US 911 emergency centers, which makes Apple's new iOS 12 feature production-ready from the minute it's scheduled to launch this fall. Other 911 call centers will have to upgrade equipment to be capable of receiving this data.
The technology will come in handy as 80 percent of 911 calls made today come from mobile devices, while the rest come from classic landlines. While some of these mobile devices do not have geo-location detection features, most of them do, and in the US, a large chunk of them run Apple's iOS.
Apple's new feature is in the spirit of recent FCC regulation that requires that mobile carriers must be able to pinpoint 911 callers to within 50 meters at least 80 percent of the time by 2021.
Two former FCC heads —Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman from 2013 to 2017, and Dennis Patrick, FCC Chairman from 1987 to 1989— have applauded Apple's move.
"Helping 911 services quickly and accurately assess caller location has been a major issue since my time at the FCC," Patrick said. "This advancement from Apple and RapidSOS will be transformative for emergency response in the United States."