Apple Watch’s fall detection triggers false emergency calls at ski areas

“It’s a feature on the new Apple Watch that is designed to save lives,” Matt Kroschel reports for CBS Denver. “However, the smart watch is creating some frustration among emergency dispatch centers in ski resort towns across Colorado.”

“Dozens of false, accidental Apple Watch fall calls are being cataloged, according to information obtained exclusively by CBS4,” Kroschel reports. “The new Apple Watch Series 4 offers users a free equipped technology capable of detecting when someone has fallen. The problem is when skiers hit the slopes they forget to turn off the service. ”

“Vail and Summit County first responders treat the 911 calls from the watch as a real emergency each time, sending crews to GPS locations provided by the watch,” Kroschel reports. “But many users fail to realize the call has been made. While this person continues skiing, emergency responders are on a ‘wild goose chase to find them.’ …Summit County Dispatch says they received 10 to 12 false fall calls in recent weeks, but one call was for an actual victim who did need medical assistance.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: So, obviously it would be best if Apple Watch could attempt to detect skiing motions (or perhaps the pretty unique swaying and gentle rise and fall of riding a ski lift) and then ask any user who has fall detection enabled, “It looks like you’re skiing. Would you like to turn off fall detection too could trigger 911 calls?”

26 Comments

  1. I love my Apple Watch Series 4, but it does ask me if I’ve fallen an awful lot. When I open the dogs’ food in the morning, if I shake the can to empty it with both hands, it asks if I need a 911 call. It happened once when the watch dropped on the floor, after I took it off. This requires making sure you cancel the emergency or 911 will be called. I haven’t had that happen yet.

    1. Me too. I have this nervous habit of sometimes shaking my hands in excitement and once in a while it will make that fall alarm go off. Fortunately I caught it in time before it made an emergency call.

  2. I’m 60 and at my age by default, fall detection was turned off.
    I had to go and turn it on myself as the iPhone/Apple Watch warned me that active exercise may trigger the fall warning. It became my responsibility as I turned it on. No false warnings yet.

    BTW – Falling and being knocked unconscious while going down a ski slope is a very real possibility. On the other hand, If their GPS indicates that a person is continuing to move down the mountain, you can surmise that the person isn’t suffering from a debilitating fall.

    1. But what if they got caught in an avalanche? they’d still be moving and may need emergency assistance! What if I jump out of an airplane, will they send an ambulance then too? What if I jump up and down on my bed? (Don’t ask)

      Good feature but too many false alerts will hamper it’s acceptance

  3. Or maybe if the after the fall the user is seen as moving from the spot of the fall the watch does not send automatic calls.

    The way it is supposed to work in if you fall the watch asks if you need assistance if there is no response after 30 seconds it places the call so if you are in motion before the 30 seconds is up then the call is not sent.

    1. An edge case, but imagine a skier falling of a small drop and rolling down the hill for a time and coming to a stop unconscious. That would definitely require some medical assistance. Another could be falling into a freezing river where the wearer is detected to be in motion by all the bouncing around.

  4. Fall detection triggered while I was simply driving my car; my wife has received two or three inexplicable fall alerts. In these cases the Watch was smart enough not to dial, but only to ask if there had really been a fall and should it dial. All the same, attempting while driving to be sure the Watch isn’t dialing 911 was disconcerting – one never wants to squint at the screen and poke at an action choice while behind the wheel. I’ve shut the feature back off and feel Apple pushed it out just a little bit under-baked in its eagerness to say something new.

  5. Unfortunately this is funny. Since people are wearing think ski gloves and jackets while skiing they cannot hear the Apple Watch asking them if they need help after falling on the ski slopes. So they pick themselves up and ski on – all the while oblivious to the Apple Watch counting down to the emergency call 60 seconds later.

    1. Very true. They could use a tap sequence to disable the call. 3 taps in row for instance. The motion detector would register those, so no need to even get your gloves off or the watch out. And at least let the watch vibrate like all hell broke loose so you know it’s about to make a call. A short distinctive haptic feedback could let you know the cancelation has been registered. But until they make some adjustments, skiing is clearly not the not the right time to use this feature.

  6. Let’s remember that this feature is only turned on automatically when you’re over 60. If you’re younger than this, you had to turn it on manually. A little personal responsibility might be in order. Every tool has its functional exceptions. We’re quite a ways away from a sophisticated AI to protect us from ourselves.

    I was exercising on a balance ball one day, had a vertigo attack, and fell off the ball, hitting my head, fortunately on a rubber mat on the exercise floor. The fall alert immediately came up and gave me the option to call for help, or not. I believe the wait for an automatic call if I’m unresponsive is one minute, not 30 seconds. So, I’m a fan of this new technology.

    I only expect it to get much better from here.

    1. I think we’re learning something interesting about many of the folks posting here 🙂 It could be that they are seeing false positives because fall detection was turned on automatically when they set up their Apple Watch. We should collectively get off their lawns.

      I’m one of those that have never had it go off accidentally because
      1. I haven’t turned it on
      2. I’m not 65, so I don’t need to turn it off

  7. While playing volleyball, I was interrupted by my AWS4 every time I lunged or dove for a ball. What puzzled me was why this feature wouldn’t turn itself off while a workout is in progress. The heart rate alerts turn themselves off during a workout.

    At a minimum, Apple should allow users to determine when fall detection should ignore falls. For example, ignore during volleyball or basketball, but allow during skiing or mountain biking.

    Bottom line… great feature. Just needs some tweaking.

    1. “every time” — really!? What puzzles me is why YOU wouldn’t turn it off.

      Aaaand — Now we’re going to expect the watch to distinguish between volleyball/basket and skiing/mountain biking? WHAT!?

      1. I DID turn it off. This whole thread is about how Apple should improve their functionality so users don’t have to turn it off.

        Aaaand – No. When you choose a workout, you select the type of workout you are doing… swim, run, walk, skiing, volleyball, etc. You should separately be able to tell the watch on which workout types you prefer fall detection to be on or off.

  8. I swatted a fly and my series 4 claimed I had fallen hard. – It was the fly that had fallen hard.

    That was, however, the first time I had a message about falling. It can see it probably would go off a bit in the ski slopes.

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