Apple patents technology to dial 999 with a fingerprint

Calling the emergency services is a deliberately easy process. Just three digits – 999 over here, or 911 across the pond – will connect you immediately, so a police car, ambulance or fire engine can be dispatched in next to no time. The number is short enough that even young children can be relied on – even if they have to go via Siri.

Apple patents technology to dial 999 with a fingerprint

But what if you’re not in a position to phone 999 without putting yourself in danger? Apple has patented a new way of phoning the emergency services using just your fingerprints to avoid causing alarm.

On the surface, this sounds like a recipe for repeated accidental 999 dials, but this is where things get a bit more clever. The patent describes how users can set different fingerprints, patterns and even amount of force to trigger a 999 call. For example, if you usually use your thumb for unlocking the phone, you can set it so that your index finger is to be used in emergencies – or even a pattern involving several different fingers as an extra safety net. If the pattern is not replicated exactly as set up, the phone will do nothing; otherwise, it will move into panic mode.

Panic mode could just be a simple call to 999, but it also provides emergency services with the kind of information they would normally need you to relay via voice: your GPS will tell them where you are, but it could also trigger a live stream of video or audio, the patent suggests. A specific pattern could also trigger the deletion of sensitive data stored on the handset if you’re at risk of having the iPhone stolen.emergency_iphone_call_with_fingerprint_patent

How to secretly make a 999 call

Whether this is a feature for future iPhones, existing handsets through a software update, or a speculative patent that never sees the light of day, is yet to be seen. But with a number of terror attacks targeting Britain, it doesn’t hurt to familiarise yourself with the current ways of calling 999 on the sly.

Most smartphones allow you to make an emergency call from the lockscreen, even if you don’t have the PIN – in case you need to use someone’s handset who is unconscious. But if you can’t talk without putting yourself in danger, there are ways to ensure emergency services take your call seriously.

Dial 999 and the operator will ask you which service you require, but if you don’t reply they won’t hang up – they’ll ask you to cough or make an audible sound. If you’re in a situation where you can’t make a sound, you’ll be put through to the Police Voice Response System. This is an automated message that lasts for 20 seconds, instructing the caller to dial 55 if they need assistance. Pressing nothing will mean nobody is alerted.

Alternatively, there is a way to text the emergency services using EmergencySMS – although it requires a setup procedure and is likely to be slower than calling the operators directly. Because it is intended primarily as a service for deaf and speech-impaired citizens, it requires you to register first, which is done by sending the word “register” to 999.

Once confirmed, you can contact emergency services by texting the same number, and the guidance is to include the same information that you would in a phone call: Which (emergency service), What (is the emergency) and Where (is it happening).

If Apple’s patent joins these methods, it could literally be a life-saver – but only if Apple takes steps to ensure users set it up and familiarise themselves with the procedure. Otherwise it’ll just be another forgotten option buried in a labyrinth of menus.

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