5 things we learned about Crash Detection on iPhone and Apple Watch

Earlier this fall, Apple announced a new feature called Crash Detection for the iPhone 14 and Apple Watch Series 8. And we already know it works as advertised… even sometimes when it’s not supposed to, like when you’re on a roller coaster .

But how does Crash Detection work exactly? And why would a roller coaster ride trigger it?

Apple executives Ron Huang, vice president of detection and connectivity, and Kaiann Drance, vice president of worldwide iPhone marketing, spoke to tech blog TechCrunch to pull back the curtain on what went into creating the new features.

Here’s what we learned.

1. G-Forces aren’t just for ‘Top Gun’

Collision detection is made possible by new developments in the gyroscope and accelerometer — sensors in the iPhone and Apple Watch that detect motion and speed.

“It’s mostly G-Force sensing,” Drance told TechCrunch. “It’s able to detect G-Force up to 256 Gs. That was one of the key differences for the new accelerometers that the new watches and phones have.”

For context, the highest G-Force a human has ever survived was the 214 Gs Indycar driver Kenny Brack experienced when he crashed his race car, which was doing 220 mph at the time, at Texas Motor Speedway. Serious car accidents are around 100 Gs or higher.

Suffice to say, Crash Detection has you covered in the G-Force department.


Apple Watch Series 8 is meant to save you from mortal danger

2. Sensor agreement

But G-Force sensors aren’t the only technologies that determine if a collision has occurred. Collision detection also takes many factors into account. This includes GPS to infer high speeds, microphone activity for the sounds of a crash, a barometer to detect pressure if the airbags deploy, and even Bluetooth and CarPlay to let your device know you’re in a car.

Apple also worked extensively with crash labs to simulate crashes and collect data. The tech company even collected historical data from the Department of Transportation and NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) to understand potential injury crashes. All of this was done to ensure that the feature would be difficult to activate and that it won’t accidentally turn off if you drop your phone.

3. “It’s not a straight equation.”

Error detection must be considered all from these data points to determine if there was an error — it’s not just a dominant data point or specific calculation that triggers it. It’s about how the sensors tell the whole story.

Since the factors involved in a car accident are varied and unique, Crash Detection is designed to analyze data for the sum of its parts. Huang said a car’s speed, impact, pressure change and even sound level help determine whether the feature is activated.

“It’s all quite a dynamic algorithm.”

4. Emergency SOS for rescue

Ironically, crashing your car in a remote area is when you need help the most and are least likely to get it. But Apple thought of this.

If this happens, your iPhone or Apple Watch will first try to call 911 over your regular cellular network. Besides, it will then try to route to any other carrier. And if there’s no cell service, Huang said the iPhone will make an emergency SOS call via satellite connectivity.


Apple’s iPhone 14 series connects to satellites for emergency messages

5. Apple Watch works the same just different

According to Huang, Crash Detection on iPhone and Apple Watch have the same level of accuracy, but each works slightly differently.

“The watch is on your wrist, and the kind of impact you see on your wrist during a crash will be very different,” he said. “…But, for example, [the] The barometer is very similar to the iPhone and the watch. Therefore, there are differences based on how the devices are used, placed or used.”

Apple has already confirmed that it plans to fine-tune Crash Detection over time. But for now, if you’re a rollercoaster fan and don’t want the cops to show up every time you ride a roller coaster, you can just turn the feature off.


Collision detection on Apple’s iPhone 14 can be triggered by roller coasters

Otherwise, you might leave your iPhone or Apple Watch with that friend who hates roller coasters and is happy to watch the rides from solid ground.

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