The Wall Street JournalJoanna Stern recently traveled to Michigan to test out Apple’s new Collision Detection feature on the iPhone 14 and Apple Watch Ultra. In response, Apple provided additional information on how the feature works.
Stern recruited Michael Barabe to smash his demolition derby car with a sturdy steel frame into two unoccupied vehicles parked in a junkyard – a 2003 Ford Taurus and a 2008 Dodge Caravan. The results were mixed, the iPhone and the Apple Watch only detecting some of the crashes, which Apple said was a result of the case testing conditions not providing enough “signals” to trigger the feature every time.
When I contacted Apple with the results, a company spokesperson said the test conditions in the junkyard didn’t provide enough signals to the iPhone to trigger the feature in stopped cars. It was not connected to Bluetooth or CarPlay, which would have indicated the car was in use, and the vehicles may not have traveled far enough before the crash to indicate they were driving . If the iPhone had received these additional indicators and its GPS had shown the cars were on a real road, the likelihood of an alert would have been greater, he said.
Apple says its collision detection feature is based on “advanced Apple-designed motion algorithms trained with more than one million real-world driving hours and crash record data.” Stern described the various hardware sensors and software algorithms that help detect a crash on supported iPhone and Apple Watch models:
• Motion sensors: All devices are equipped with a three-axis gyroscope and a high g-force accelerometer, which samples motion more than 3,000 times per second. This means the devices can detect the exact moment of impact and any change in the vehicle’s movement or path.
• Microphones: The microphones are used to detect loud sound levels that could indicate a crash. The microphones are only activated when driving is detected and no actual sound is recorded, Apple explains.
• Barometer: If the airbags deploy when the windows are closed, the barometer may detect a change in air pressure.
• GPS: Readings can be used to detect speeds prior to an accident and any sudden lack of movement, as well as to inform the device that it is moving on a road.
• CarPlay and Bluetooth: When connected, they give the algorithms another signal that the phone is in a car, so it knows to watch out for an accident.
Collision detection is enabled by default on iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 14 Pro Max, Apple Watch Series 8, second-generation Apple Watch SE, and Apple Watch Series 8. Apple Watch Ultra. The feature is found in the Settings app under Emergency SOS → Call After Severe Crash and is not available on older iPhone and Apple Watch models.
Apple’s website says the Collision Detection feature is designed to detect “serious” car accidents, such as “frontal, side and rear collisions, and rollovers” involving “sedans, minivans , SUVs, pickup trucks and other passenger cars.” Apple warns that the feature “cannot detect all car crashes”, so it is not foolproof.
When a serious car crash is detected, a supported iPhone or Apple Watch displays an alert and sounds an alarm, according to Apple. If a user is able, they can call emergency services by swiping the Emergency Call slider on iPhone or Apple Watch, or dismiss the alert. If it does not respond to the alert after 10 seconds, the device starts a new 10-second countdown. If they still do not answer, the device calls the emergency services.
Apple says that if a serious car accident is detected, users will interact with the Apple Watch if they are wearing one. Otherwise, users interact with the iPhone.
Overall, while Stern said his test wasn’t exactly scientific, it’s reassuring that the feature picked up some of the crashes. However, tests involving stationary vehicles in a controlled environment can never truly replicate a street crash.
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