Roller Coasters, Basic Clumsiness are Triggering the iPhone 14's Automated Crash Detection

Apple's precise detection algorithms are being fooled by amusement park rides, wasting first responders' time as a result.

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Image for article titled Roller Coasters, Basic Clumsiness are Triggering the iPhone 14's Automated Crash Detection
Screenshot: Apple

The 2022 iPhone line’s ability to detect car crashes and automatically contact emergency services garnered a lot of attention when the products were unveiled in September — even though that sort of cleverness has been present on Google’s devices for years. (Admittedly, this stuff only tends to get acknowledged when Apple does it.) The benefits of such a feature are obvious, but critically only when actual car accidents are identified — not activities that tend to register data merely resembling that of car accidents. I think you know where this is going.

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal on Sunday cited six automated cash detection calls from Apple products triggered at Kings Island, since September when the latest iPhones and Apple Watches launched. Roller coasters appear to be a common culprit. The story leads with the case of a woman at Cincinnati’s Kings Island park who disembarked a coaster and got in line for the bumper cars, only to notice a bunch of missed calls and voicemails from an emergency dispatcher. First responders even arrived on the scene, but found no emergency.

The Journal also says it’s received several reports of false positives after iPhones have been dropped or taken tumbles inside of cars. That’s somewhat surprising, because Apple advertised a very specific set of criteria that must be satisfied for its products to determine that an accident has happened. To quote one of our earlier stories on the topic:

A new accelerometer — the component in electronics that detects motion — can now register up to 256 Gs. That’s cross-referenced with sudden changes in direction via the gyroscope, alterations in cabin pressure thanks to the barometer, extreme peaks in recorded sound from the microphone and, of course, actual car crash data if it’s available.

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You can imagine how a roller coaster might produce the precise mix of sensor data that would flag “car crash!” to an iPhone. But basic clumsiness? Those who ride have reported issues too, like when Douglas Sonders told us how his new iPhone fell off his motorcycle’s adhesive mount on the road, and instantly alerted all of his loved ones that something potentially tragic had occurred. There are still kinks to work out!

Predictably, Apple’s answer is that it intends to improve the accuracy of the service over time. I imagine that the company could probably update its internal maps with geofenced areas where car crashes won’t be flagged — say, Six Flags — and that might do a lot of good for the roller coaster issue. However, determining the difference between a phone biting the dust and an entire vehicle seems a little trickier from the outset. Here’s hoping they can figure it out quickly. I reckon first responders would appreciate it.