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App turns smartphone into emergency beacon

17 February, 2012

Edith Cowan University (ECU) students have developed a new app which transforms a smartphone into an emergency beacon at the push of a button.

The project was developed by four students from ECU’s School of Computer and Security Science in conjunction with the WA Police Air Wing. It utilises the GPS found in most smartphones and transmits a person’s exact location to search and rescue services, potentially making it easier to find lost bushwalkers or those at sea.

The app has a number of unique features including providing travellers with a set of 'before you go tips', from survival expert Bob Cooper ensuring they are well prepared as possible before they leave. At the push of a button GPS coordinates are sent to search and rescue services, as well as the traveller’s phone contacts list.

The app also provides travellers with a 'what to do in an emergency' survival guide; while also acting as a light source which is detected by night vision equipment in police helicopters up to four kilometres away.

The app was tested by the students twice over a 12-week period by placing them in bushland near the Jandakot Airport and then using the app to send their location to police. The students were located within minutes of the app being activated.

Final year Computer Science and Software Engineering student Laurance Da Luz says the app was developed in response to a need from police for more accurate search and rescue information.

"Almost everybody has access to a smartphone in today’s society and GPS programs on phones are relatively common," Laurence said.

"The WA Police have great resources to rescue someone once they know their location – the problem is getting that location to police. This application bridges the gap, sending an automated GPS location to rescuers, giving them the best chance at finding survivors and saving lives."

Senior Constable Ian Davidson, Technical Training Officer with the WA Police Air Wing, praised the app for its ability to aid the search and rescue operation.

"We tested the app with the ECU students to make sure it worked effectively. Using the onboard navigation system, the police were able to locate students within a matter of minutes, with the app visible at 3 to 4 kilometres from the police helicopter," Davidson said.

"The app was a great success and we are confident it will make a difference in future search and rescue operations."

The app has been nominated as a finalist in the Tertiary Student Category at the 2012 WA Information Technology and Telecommunications Awards (WAITTA) and will be released as a free android app in the near future.

As the app utilises the smartphone’s 3G connection, the app is intended to help those lost in bushland around cities, regional areas with phone reception and near-shore locations. It is not intended as a replacement for EPIRBs, marine radios or other safety equipment.

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Howard de Zylva | Thursday, February 23, 2012, 11:22 AM
I work at remote sites, can I have this App?
Mallick | Thursday, February 23, 2012, 4:00 PM
The GPS codes are available if the phone is switched in that mode and it sends the location coordinates on request from the user, it should also be activated if the user falls or goes unconscious, many ingenuity tweaking is possible to make it more versatile. Nice thinking guys!
PHILIP DARIES | Friday, February 24, 2012, 8:50 AM
1. Does this work on BlackBerry? 2. How can we get this app?
IndustrySearch Chris | Monday, February 27, 2012, 10:06 AM
For those asking how to get the app, the best contact I have is Rhys Stacker who works in ECU's media department. Rhys should be able to point you in the right direction. 08 6304 2131 or pr@ecu.edu.au