OK, I’ll admit it. It wasn’t the first time a neighbor peered my way in utter bewilderment.
There I was early Saturday morning in the idling family van, one hand firmly planted on the horn, the other flashing a thumbs-up. Was that really only 5 seconds? Ok, let’s do it again.
5 long seconds later, I got the confirmation: “AngelGuard’s emergency help feature now activated”, followed by, no kidding, a harp strum.
In a few minutes I had installed AngelGuard, a new safety technology from Guardity Technologies. The concept is familiar; AngelGuard immediately calls for help and directs first responders to your exact location after an accident or self-triggered emergency. But AngelGuard is not your father’s OnStar.
AngelGuard is a small device that plugs into the under-dash inspection port on any ’96 or newer vehicle. But here is the cool part: AngelGuard intelligently decides when help is needed and then communicates all critical emergency information directly to 911. Because FCC rules prevent carriers from charging for wireless 911 calls, AngelGuard will never require any subscription, service charge, or other fees.
AngelGuard is essentially a safety smartphone for your car. At its core, AngelGuard uses a TI ARM 9 processor, a gigabyte of RAM, a large flash memory, and runs a Linux OS. Like most smartphones, it includes a high-sensitivity GPS, built-in speakerphone system, and Li-Po battery. AngelGuard normally gets power from the car’s inspection port, but the internal battery provides a backup in case the car’s electrical system is damaged in a crash. AngelGuard also has a built-in tri-axial accelerometer, but it’s designed to analyze much larger forces than the accelerometer inside your smartphone. Unlike your cellphone, AngelGuard does not have a display or any buttons, but it does read information from your car through the inspection port.
So what does my blaring horn have to do with an AngelGuard installation?
When you first plug AngelGuard into your car, a female voice prompts you to press and hold your horn for five seconds. Actually, she prompts twice. Once with your engine running, once with the engine off. This is part of AngelGuard’s learning process for each vehicle. It reads the vehicle’s make and year, calculates its orientation, and then saves a ‘fingerprint’ of your horn. Yes, your horn really is unique and special… at least to an AngelGuard.
Since it doesn’t have any of its own, AngelGuard uses the big button in the middle of your steering wheel for user interaction. If AngelGuard detects a minor accident it verbally prompts the user to confirm the emergency with a brief horn press before calling 911. Moderate accidents can be cancelled with the horn if no help is needed. But AngelGuard calls 911 immediately to report a serious accident. Medical or other threatening emergency? Press and hold that big button on your wheel until you hear AngelGuard respond.
No. I did not crash my car to verify AngelGuard works as advertised. There actually are some limits to the lengths I’ll go for a thorough review. I did however leave the device installed in the family van for several days. It dutifully strummed its harp each time I started my engine, a reassuring reminder that AngelGuard is on the job. It never misbehaved, and AngelGuard detected a long horn press, as advertised, each time I tested the Panic feature.
AngelGuard includes one year of ‘Family Notification’ service for free with each device. This feature automatically sends SMS or email alerts to up to five people, should your AngelGuard ever need to make an emergency call. Although AngelGuard was designed to operate without an activated SIM, Guardity pays for a year of AngelGuard data service, just to ensure each unit automatically receives any beneficial updates.
The AngelGuard I received for evaluation was configured a bit differently than most. Instead of calling 911, it called my cellphone. So I went ahead and confirmed those horn-initiated panic calls to see what happens next. AngelGuard said “Emergency detected, AngelGuard calling 911”. Within seconds I answered my cellphone and immediately heard what sounded like an old dial-up modem. To send location and other emergency details, AngelGuard uses the same technology all 911 centers use to support calls from the deaf or mute. Inside the car, AngelGuard says “…sending emergency data to 911 dispatcher. Standby for 911.” This takes the better part of a minute, and it then reverts to a very good speakerphone call. Only the 911 side can terminate the call.
The family notification feature also worked well and gave me a chance to verify AngelGuard’s GPS performance. No small feat given it lives under the dash. A couple minutes after the emergency call completed, I received a text and email with AngelGuard’s exact location and a description of the ‘emergency’.
AngelGuards are now available for purchase on the company’s website for $399.95. This seems to be a good value, considering it’s less than a 2-year subscription to OnStar’s cheapest service.
I suspect the AngelGuard team envisions a very bright future for their smart little device. If you think of AngelGuard as a smartphone for your car, and emergency protection as its first app, what might be next?