by Brad Jones February 16, 2018 Hard Science
In Brief
The 911 emergency number was never set up with cellphones in mind. Now, Google is testing out a new method of locating callers in order to send out help as quickly as possible.

When the 911 emergency number was set up in 1968, there was no way to know how cellphones would change the way people use the service. Today, it’s still difficult for operators to pinpoint the exact location of callers to send out help – but Google could change all that.

The search giant has been testing out a way to use the technology that identifies the user’s location in Google Maps to help out the emergency services. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, a sample of 911 calls made using Android phones over the course of December 2017 and January 2018 saw geolocation data sent directly to the operator.

Currently, carriers can detect the location of a device by triangulating their distance from several cell phone towers, but this isn’t particularly accurate.  The study found that Google’s data gave an average location estimate radius of 121 feet, whereas carrier data averaged out at 522 feet.

At present, it falls to the operator to find out the exact location emergency responders need to be sent to from the caller. Given that they might be flustered, or potentially in a place they’re not familiar with, this can be a difficult prospect.

In this kind of situation, a slight improvement on the response time can be life-saving. Research published by the Federal Communications Commission suggests that as many as 10,000 lives could be saved annually if emergency response times were improved by just one minute.

Google has had the technology to provide this service for some time – it was rolled out in the U.K. and Estonia in July 2016, according to a report from Ars Technica. Many feel uncomfortable with the idea of allowing their smartphone to track their location, but in emergency circumstances, it’s easy to see the benefits.