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Google accidentally reveals automatic car crash detection feature

Google has accidentally rolled out an app update that details just how its automatic car crash detection will work.

Published onOctober 1, 2019

Google is apparently testing car crash detection in Pixel phones running Android Q.

Update, October 1, 2019 (7AM ET): Google seems to have accidentally rolled out an update to the Pixel phones’ built-in Emergency Information app. The update (version 1.0.271601625) rebrands the app to “Personal Safety.”

The update was noticed by a member of XDA-Developers  on a Pixel 2 XL device. The publication then accessed the Play Store listing for the renamed app and managed to grab some screenshots of the new car crash detection feature.

The Play Store description of the app reads: “Personal Safety is an app for Pixel phones that helps you stay safe and connected to first responders and your emergency contacts.” The listing also notes that if your phone detects you’ve been in a car crash (using location and sensor data), it will automatically dial 911.

The demo of the feature shows that in case of a crash, your phone will vibrate and play a loud sound, asking if you need help. If you do not respond, it will dial emergency services. Alternatively, you can tap the “911 Emergency” button or mark yourself safe by tapping the “I’m OK” button.

As per the Play Store listing found by XDA, the car crash detection feature is only available in the United States. It is unclear if it’ll come to all Pixel phones or if it will be limited to the upcoming Pixel 4 devices.

Another feature spotted in the changelog of the app lets users quickly share their emergency status with contacts. Users will be able to create a custom message with their location attached to it and send it to multiple contacts.

Original article, May 13 2019 (2:20AM ET): Google is no stranger to Pixel-exclusive features, such as Night Sight, unlimited original quality photo backups, and more. It looks like the company might have one more exclusive feature in the works though.

XDA-Developers has found references to car crash detection functionality in the Android Q Beta 3 Safety Hub app. One string notes that the function will “automatically launch an alert activity when the device detects you are in a car crash.”

XDA also found a string in the app that suggests the feature is exclusive to Pixels. So the hundreds of millions of people using third-party Android phones might miss out on this functionality.

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Just how could the Safety Hub app detect a car crash? It’s possible the feature will harness GPS data to determine whether you’re in a car, the accelerometer to detect a sudden or violent stop, and a microphone to listen for the sound of the crash itself. These capabilities would likely be tied together with Google’s machine learning technology. After all, the likes of Intel and other entities have already experimented with neural networks to detect car crashes.

Google will also need to work hard to ensure that false positives are kept to a minimum — who needs the feature if it mistakes a falling phone for a crash?

The outlet speculates that the car crash detection mode could alert emergency services or designated contacts. And with roughly 1.35 million people killed annually as a result of road crashes according to the World Health Organization, prompt assistance could make a big difference.

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