Quietly calling the cops

Leandra Vicci of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been awarded a patent for an automatic emergency and position indicator.

Leandra Vicci of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been awarded a patent for an automatic emergency and position indicator, a device that combines a global positioning system (GPS) receiver with a geographic information system (GIS) server.

‘When you are accosted, you just don’t have time to pull out your cell phone, dial 911 and tell people exactly where you are and what’s happening,’ said Vicci. ‘It occurred to me that the technologies existed to report such emergencies automatically.

‘These were GPS for location, cell phones for communication and GIS for translation, with a microphone to hear what was happening and a microprocessor to run things.’

The automatic emergency and position indicator combines a GPS receiver, which provides precise co-ordinates of its location, with a microprocessor and cell phone chips to make a wireless connection with a GIS server.

The server in turn translates geographic co-ordinates into locations understandable in plain language and can notify an emergency response service such as 911, the emergency services number in the US.

Vicci envisages that the 911 operator would hear, ‘This is an automated report of an emergency occurring at 100 feet north of the intersection of Rosemary and Graham streets in Chapel Hill. What you will hear is from a microphone at the scene of the emergency.’

The US Patent Office has just issued the university and her a patent on the idea for the device.

The scientist, who directs UNC-CH’s microelectronics systems laboratory and does computer hardware research, has not yet built a working model of the device, but hopes to find a company to do that soon.

One form she envisions for it is a pendant on a necklace or lanyard that a person could pull if they were in a threatening situation.

‘Once triggered, the device, which has been continuously logging your GPS co-ordinates, contacts the GPS server by wireless cell phone, immediately reports your location and opens its microphone to transmit whatever is happening,’ said Vicci. ‘But it remains locally mute so an assailant does not become aware of it.’