A new generation of personal emergency alert systems, with the potential to extend the concept beyond traditional markets, has been granted a patent in the United States.
Developed by Red Button Technologies, a technology company in Adelaide, South Australia, the system uses a novel approach to communications system architecture.
At its heart is the principle of establishing a communications link between people – rather than simply devices – who have a previous relationship. A cloud-based server stores these associations and is able to instantly establish multiple links when it receives a call.
The original idea is the brainchild of Professor Reg Coutts, a former professor of telecommunications at the University of Adelaide and member of the Australian Federal Government’s panel of experts for the National Broadband Network.
This has great potential value for people with limited English.
“While the concept is simple and may seem obvious, like many inventive steps it actually isn’t,” Prof Coutts said. “The Australian and US patent offices granted patents that cover not just our initial system but the broader principle on which it is based.”
The first commercial application is the Red Button personal alarm system that can be activated from anywhere using speed dial, a smartphone app, or a conventional landline.
Prof Coutts said the system had advantages over traditional alert systems because it dialed into a server rather than simply following conventional telephony paradigms.
For a start, that means it can call an agreed list of contacts (a call group) simultaneously rather than sequentially. The recipient authenticates using the hash key when answering, verifying that a person not voicemail has taken the call.
The first person to answer is connected to the caller, while the others receive a message indicating who answered the call. When the call is concluded, a follow-up message informs the remaining call group members what was discussed and the outcome.
Perhaps more significantly, the recipient can make the decision to add a third party, such as emergency services, to the conversation without placing the caller on-hold, thus assisting a caller who may be in distress or having difficulty communicating.
“In fact many people are reluctant to call emergency because they are concerned about looking foolish if the call is unwarranted or about what will happen to their pets if they are suddenly whisked off to hospital,” Prof Coutts said.
“The relative or friend can not only make the decision and offer reassurance, they can also provide vital information to the ambulance about the person’s medical condition, where they are and how to get to them.
“This has great potential value for people with limited English. While emergency services have access to translators, this takes time, a that fact isn’t well known in ethnic communities.”
Red Button’s Chief Executive Officer, Justin Wearne, said there were many other immediate applications for the concept, such as systems for young people who needed to contact parents or friends when their phone has no credit, but the potential was much greater.
For example, the company’s patents cover the management of alert messages from biometric sensors sent via mobile devices through the server to pre-assigned recipients, such as health care professionals and family members, opening up a range of opportunities in e-health.
Red Button Technologies was formed in 2006 and completed the development of its core system in 2010.