Google brings its high-accuracy emergency location tracking to the U.S.

In an emergency, every second can mean the difference between life and death, and Google’s latest tech could be a literal lifesafer.

In partnership with local carriers, Google has begun rolling out Emergency Location Services to Android devices — a service that will ultimately give first responders more accurate location information. The company first announced the new service two years ago, and since then it has rolled out to 99 percent of Android device with Android 4.0 or later, in a hefty 14 countries.

Now, in partnership with RapidSOS, ELS is finally coming to the United States. It will first be available on Android devices on T-Mobile, but will roll out to other carriers over time.

The move really brings calling 911 into the 21st century. In the past, emergency services were optimized for landlines, and the result was a large location radius. Now, 80 percent of emergency calls come from mobile phones — meaning those outdated systems really don’t compete in modern times.

The services have been really helpful in the countries that they’ve rolled out in. According to Google, the average uncertainty radius has shrunk from 522 feet to 121 feet — meaning that it’s far easier for emergency responders to find the emergency quickly.

“In Austria, a mountain biker in a remote, heavily forested area suffered a serious accident and called emergency services for help. The legacy emergency location systems provided a location with a radius of more than 900 meters (about half a mile), while ELS was able to provide a location within 12 meters (39 feet) to help first responders locate the biker,” said Google in a blog post announcing the U.S. launch.

Of course, the tech does raise some questions related to privacy, but Google is quick to point out that the location information is measured on the smartphone and passed straight to emergency services. In other words, it doesn’t pass through Google’s servers, which may be important for some.

So what do you need to do to ensure that ELS is enabled on your phone? Thankfully, nothing. As long as you have an Android phone with Android 4.0 or later, and your carrier supports the service, you’ll be able to make use of it. Hopefully, you’ll never need ELS, but if you do, it’ll most likely be there once more carriers support it.


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