June 10, 2013

UNT develops smart phone App to help in 911 calls

New software system uses smart phones to take 911 operators virtually to the scene of an emergency.

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Engineering professors at the University of North Texas are developing software that will provide vital information on 911 calls through smartphones and help first responders better do their jobs.

The Life Guard is an app currently being developed at UNT with support from National Science Foundation grants totaling about $1.1 million. It will give on-the-spot information to emergency operators so lifesaving decisions can be made, said Ram Dantu, a professor at UNT’s College of Engineering who is developing the technology.

“The app will measure various vital signs and transmit to the operator,” Dantu said.

The software system offers text-to-speech technology and remote control of smartphone cameras so an operator can view an emergency scene. It also provides breathing and vital sign monitors and a CPR monitor so a dispatcher can accurately coach callers who are aiding those in need.

“First responders need as much accurate information as quickly as possible during an emergency, and we are using technology already available in the smartphones to bring 911 operators closer to emergency scenes than ever before,” Dantu said.

The app will be available for purchase and download in upcoming months, Dantu said. The app doesn’t have a price tag yet.

Dantu worked on the project with UNT professor Krishna Kavi, UNT associate professor Parthasarathy Guturu and researchers from Texas A&M University and Columbia University.

The project began about four years ago, Dantu said. At the time, he met with 911 operators from the Dallas-Fort Worth region to discuss needs.

“They gave me some nice requirements,” he said.

The app takes the emergency operator to the scene using virtual tools. For example, a caller can put a smartphone on a victim’s torso and the emergency operator can view the victim’s breaths per minute.

“Some smartphone users may have concerns about privacy and security with the use of their program,” Dantu said. “When a person downloads the application and launches it for the first time, the application is designed to disclose all of its capabilities and ask the user to opt in to allowing emergency operators access to their phone’s sensory hardware.”

Dantu said this is similar to granting tech support remote access to a computer during a short time period.

Dantu will participate in a National Science Foundation webcast at noon Tuesday to discuss research on the app.

He will also present the software at the 2013 National Emergency Number Association Conference, which begins Saturday in Charlotte, N.C.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

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