Homo Ludditus

Less is more and nothing is good enough


Saving your life via the GPS

A recent incident related to a small plane’s crash (forced landing, actually) in Romania, followed by an extremely clumsy and uncoordinated rescue operation that took about 7 hours, made me write this post.

Imagine a situation when you have to call 112 while being in the middle of nowhere, you manage to do it, but there is a unique GSM carrier cell in your area, so a triangulation is not possible. The 112 operator can only estimate your position within a radius of several kilometers. How do you communicate your GPS position, i.e. the latitude and longitude?

Google Maps is a stupid app that’s not designed to help in emergencies. While in the browser you can find your GPS coordinates via Google Maps, I’ve not been able to find the same level of information in the app. This is criminal for Google not to have included life-saving features by default in Android, but I suppose it’s the same case with iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone. So what are the choices? What apps should we instal prior to engage in life-threatening or otherwise risky activities?

First possible choice*: a GPS test app, normally used to check the functioning of your GPS, but useful in such situations because it displays the coordinates. Quick suggestions, from my long list of selected Android apps:

  • GPS Test, by Chartcross Limited (no ads). Also useful in emergencies, to allow you to report your coordinates.
  • GPS Status & Toolbox, or add GPS Status PRO – key (2.79 €), by MobiWIA – EclipSim. Among other features, it can be used to download A-GPS data. It can also calibrate the compass. Also useful in emergencies, to allow you to report your coordinates.

Second possible choice: an app designed to help you interact with the emergency services while you’re still conscious. Tested examples:

  • 112 Plus, by ADTech.pro. The app is in Spanish, but it’s brilliantly simple and straightforward: it shows your address and your GPS coordinates (when the GPS is disabled, it can use carrier’s cell towers to triangulate), and a button to call 112.
  • echo112 – The Pocket Lifesaver, by MobileMed. Note that for France it insists on calling individual service numbers 15, 17, 18, and 112 is not an option (maybe a bug?).

Third possible choice: an app designed to send an SOS message either when you’re still conscious, or when you’ve lost consciousness. One example for each case:

  • Share Where – Location Sharing, or the full Share Where Pro ($3.29 / 19.95 SEK), by Ola Bjuremo. It allows you to quickly share your current location with anyone and everyone (SMS/e-mail), as a predefined message which includes your location as a link to Google Maps. Shortcuts for such quick messages, with or without confirmation, for convenient use in emergencies. The free version has ads and is limited to maximum 2 recipients. In the Pro version you can also share a location message with any other app (Google+, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
  • GuardiApp Sport Lifesaver Lite, or the enhanced GuardiApp Sports Lifesaver Pro (0.99 €), by Thomas Wana. This app monitors your activity and sends an SOS alert to your predefined emergency contacts via SMS, including your position, once you haven’t moved for a certain period of time. Useful when running on lonely paths, trekking, climbing, etc. The Lite version only supports one single emergency contact. The Pro version also works as an answering machine: it will send the alarm SMS to people trying to call you after the alert has been triggered.

Fourth possible choice, for which I’ll not point to any particular app: a “quick replacement” for Google Maps — an app that shows your position, most usually by street name (where available), but also showing your latitude and longitude. One can find such apps by searching for “Where am I”, “I am here” or “Here I am” on the respective market app for the desired platform: Android, iOS, Windows Phone. Many such apps are ugly, some contain too many ads (especially on Android), and so on, but you might find one that satisfies you.

Once you own a smartphone with GPS capabilities, make sure you have some such app installed and tested. Better safe than sorry — or dead.

P.S.*: One more option I initially missed: some compass apps — not all of them! — also access the GPS and show the coordinates. Here’s such an app I’ve installed on my phone, but I forgot about it: Compass, by iKoudai Studio. Note however that this compass app shows the coordinates in degrees, minutes and seconds, which is less accurate than showing them in degrees with 6-7 decimals, or degrees and minutes with several decimals.

2 thoughts on “Saving your life via the GPS

  1. fish

    I have some “Antennas” which together takes the LAC & CID (along with power expressed in dbm ) of the nearest (active) cell. Together with GPS draws a straight line towards cell & your location. works well in urban area, didn’t remember about it to test it outside urban.


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