Here's Why the LifeSaver iPhone Case Won't Work

Earlier this month, a Florida-based startup launched a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo for a new, E911-enabled iPhone case that makes some pretty impressive claims: Simply flip a switch on the outside of the case, and a companion app will broadcast your GPS coordinates, personal information and a live audio/video stream to emergency dispatchers.

The problem is, the technology necessary to run the LifeSaver iPhone Case simply doesn’t exist. Currently, none of the world’s 911 dispatch centers (also called public-safety answering points, or PSAPs), or the 911 network in the U.S., is set up to receive the data this case broadcasts.

The company has raised a little more than $3,000 to date (with $97,000 to go). Here’s their pitch:

One of the ways that PSAPs might receive such data in the future is through technologies like WebRTC. To get to the real answer, I figured I’d get our utmost expert on WebRTC services on the podcast, and because that guy wasn’t available, I decided to get Chris Vitek, who’s the president of WebRTC Strategies.

Fletch: Hey Chris, welcome to the podcast.

Chris: Hey, always good to be here, Mark.

Fletch: Always good to break your chops over something. But no, you are absolutely, all kidding aside, you are absolutely the consummate WebRTC guy. So I know you saw this article. I know you saw this iPhone case that supposedly transmits all this information, and you and I kind of got into a little bit of an exchange. What they’re claiming just can’t be done.

Chris: Right. Well, not with the current technologies. And not really with the way that they describe they want to use E911 or next-gen 911. And it started me thinking about the fact that what we’re looking at here is really simple in a lot of respects.

I don’t want to insult anybody in the public safety community, but 911 is complex and maybe there are some simpler paths. And I think that WebRTC, some of the components, notably data channel and the ability to embed certain functions on mobile devices, can create some functionality that would be desirable in a 911 center, for very little money and with no license and that you’d have to maintain in a database. And that’s something else we can discuss as we go through this.

But yeah. Here’s my vision. The idea would be this. You get your 10-digit number at the PSAP. You’re always going to get that 10-digit number. If I asymmetrically broadcast information from that device to a database somewhere in the network, on the Internet, and I link to that 10-digit number, then all I have to do is query for that 10-digit number and I could pull down all the known data about that device.

Fletch: Sure the PSAPS are already querying on the 10 digit number today into the ALI database which is managed by the public safety community. This is just querying an extra database, and there are a lot of other applications that are out there that are setup over that same structure.

The problem is that these guys advertise a cell phone case, and quoting right from the webpage, “Users simply slide and push the safety switch to activate the function. Once that happens, the exact GPS location is streamed to authorities using E911 technology.”

That right there… it doesn’t work.

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Chris: Right. There’s too many gotchas there. I leave my GPS turned off, because it sucks my battery dry all the time. So you’re not going to get around situations like that.

Then you’re going to get antenna information and you maybe be able to do some triangulation pretty easy, but a lot of people are going to have that GPS turned off because of their battery life.

Fletch: Yeah. And the thing is that the PSAP has to be capable of receiving it. Right now over the existing E911 technology, that’s an analog-based voice call coming in with caller ID, that’s queried through a back channel. There’s no data transmission.

I think people really get confused, “Oh I got a smart phone, I can Facetime anybody. Obviously I can send that information to the PSAP.” And that’s what’s just missing. The network isn’t built for that.

Chris: Right, and even in the scenario that I call out there, at the minimum the PSAP has got to have browser there that can access across the Internet a database, to be able to pull this information back to their interface.

Fletch: Yeah, there’s got to be that piece. Again, with something you and I were talking before, you could probably build that in a day or two. We’re not talking about complex stuff, but the fact is, it doesn’t exist.

Chris: Exactly, exactly, it doesn’t exist, and it can’t really exist in the current infrastructure. What I’m talking about is asymmetrical communications, which 911 already is, but I’m talking about extending that asymmetrical paradigm further and possibly simplifying it at the same time.

Just because I’m saying it’s a browser in the PSAP that doesn’t mean we can’t automate that search. And it occurs to me that maybe I ought to give my friends on TCS a call. I used to work with those guys a lot. This could be something that they could put side-by-side and drive it into their database. Maybe that’s an avenue to get this to market faster than would be otherwise.

Fletch: Right, because there’s 67-some hundred PSAPs out there. In order for this to be effective, you’re going to have to implement that technology in a good chunk of those, because the customer is not going to know where they’ve got this functionality available to them or not.

Chris: Right, right. And the customers, they’re not going to be necessarily concerned about it. TCS and West, and I think I got some friends at West that I could talk to too, so maybe that’s the right place to start to get this and there’s really no money in it, honestly not for me.

Because like I said it’s like two, three days worth of Javascript programming and you’re done. That can make it bulletproof. You can prototype this in about half an hour.

Fletch: Sure you could, absolutely. And there are companies that are out there already today like Smart911 that are already managing these types of databases.

Getting to the app side, that’s the next step for those guys. But they’ve already started with the database, so as a user all of my PSTN numbers are in Smart911. So if I’m in Washington D.C., or King Country or any other municipality that’s implemented the Smart911, when I dial 911 from any of my landlines, it’ll show up here is Fletcher’s personal profile, or hell, it’s only Fletch, we don’t have to go to this one.

Chris: Maybe it’ll make them drive the other direction.

Fletch: Yeah, maybe it will. Maybe it will. But that’s the beauty of it whether I’m home or I’m in Washington or wherever if Smart911 is active, it’s a widget in the PSAP that’s going, “Yeah, I know the 10-digit caller ID. That’s Fletch. Here is his profile. Here’s the meds that he’s on. Here’s his emergency contacts.”

I’ve got floorplans of my house, all 1,400 square feet of it, in the database. But what’s important on that is, yeah, bedrooms are in the second floor, my office is in the detached garage. That’s an important part, because I work from home.

Chris: Oh absolutely. And that’s the beauty of WebRTC in a lot of respects, is because data channel it’s designed to be a real time communications tool for large volumes of data. If we’ve got that information, whether it’s on the device or linked to another database, which would not necessarily have to use data channel. I’m only talking about using data channel for the device specific information. All the rest of that profile information? That can be stored on a separate database and joined at the moment that call is made.

Fletch: Absolutely. So the main thing is we want to raise awareness in the public community and say the old adage is always true right Chris, “If you read about something and it sounds like it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

Again, here you’ve got a company that’s out there trying to do some crowd funding at $60 a case where they’re really compelling story. But a story that just is a fairytale. I mean go find Jack and buy some magic beans.

Chris: Yeah, they’ll bring it up and they’ll work in 18 zip codes globally.

Fletch: Yeah, if you’re lucky, if you’re lucky. Well good, I’m glad we got to the bottom of that from the real data source, WebRTC. The authoritative source on WebRTC. You guys have an event coming up pretty soon, right, down in Atlanta?

Chris: We do in June, in the third week in June. That’s our WebRTC conference. It’s our forth one and Rich Tehrani who runs the media company for us, he says he hadn’t seen a growth pattern in a trade show like this since beginning of the Internet. So, it’s taken off pretty fast. It’s a different crowd, it’s not a telephone crowd. It’s a software developer crowd that runs with the show, but is growing like crazy.

Fletch: Yeah, so when we were out in Santa Clara, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, there was another huge, ginormous show that was going on, and you guys still packed the house.

Chris: Yeah, we were head-to-head with Salesforce.com, and they drew 130,000 people to that trade show. In fact, some of our key vendors actually didn’t show up at our conference. They went there. We still grew by another 50%. Every six months, we seem to be growing by 50%.

Fletch: Well the attendance was so good because of the Avaya Podcast Network was there, that’s what I heard. That’s what I heard.

Chris: I am absolutely with you brother. I’m with you.

Fletch: Hey Chris, I really appreciate you sitting down and chatting with us on this. This is important information that people really need to understand, and there’s a lot of great stuff that’s going to happen with WebRTC around E911.

I think that’s going to be a huge enabler, but it’s not going to come out of a protective case and it’s not going to happen today until there is some advancements that are made in the–not necessarily the network side–but certainly at the PSAP side, from the application level to receive this data.

Because the infrastructure just isn’t there to receive it today. It’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg thing.

Chris: Yep, yep. Well we’ll keep pushing it, and see if we can make something easy enough to make it adoptable easy enough then maybe some folks will start picking it up.

Fletch: There you go. Talking with Chris Vitek who’s the president of WebRTC Strategies and probably one of the smartest guys I know on the planet around WebRTC. Thanks for talking with us.

Chris: Many thanks Mark, good to be here.

Chris Vitek, President of WebRTC Strategies

Chris Vitek is the president of WebRTC Strategies, and has been an entrepreneur for the past 17 years.

During this time, he has specialized in complex telecommunications, unified communications, contact center applications and business process optimization. Recently, he has been engaged in the use of WebRTC to reduce cost and improve the precision of enterprise communications for his clients.

As an independent consultant, Mr. Vitek has solved problems for many of the largest companies in the world. Past client include J&J, McNeil Labs, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Freddie Mac, T-Mobile, Leap Wireless, Citi Bank, Carefirst, Choice International, Marriott, TD Bank, Rite Aid, Dillard’s, Giant Food, Catalyst RX, Becton Dickinson Power Team, Pepco Holding, GTE, United Airlines, Interactive Media Group and IBM.

Prior to becoming a consultant he worked for Nortel and General Electric Information Systems. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants, and a member of the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals.

He is a member of the Advisory Board for the WebRTC World Expo and a member of the Advisory Board for the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Real-Time Communications Conference.

Additionally, he is the Editor of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants blog at www.stcblog.com.


Want more technology, news and information from Avaya? Be sure to check out the Avaya Podcast Network landing page at http://avaya.com/APN. There, you will find additional podcasts from industry events, such as Avaya Evolutions and INTEROP, as well as other informative series by the APN staff.

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Thanks for stopping by and reading the Avaya Connected blog on E911. I value your opinions, so please feel free to comment below or, if you prefer, you can email me privately.

Public comments, suggestions, corrections and loose change is all graciously accepted 😉 Until next week. . . dial carefully.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @Fletch911

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