MayDay sends alerts for car crash victims

Israeli space engineer’s iPhone app is activated by impact and sends emails or SMS messages to predetermined addresses.

MayDay emergency app

Photo by Kobi Gideon/Flash90
The MayDay emergency app can send text or email messages to friends and family in the wake of a crash.

Meidad Pariente was driving from his home in Tel Aviv towards Dimona for a family get-together. About 20 kilometers north of Beersheva, he passed an accident scene. A young man was being wheeled into an ambulance on a gurney.

When he reached his destination, the whole family had arrived – except for his youngest brother. Four hours later, they received a phone call from Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva informing them that Pariente’s brother had been in a serious car accident. When Pariente later spoke with his brother, he realized that it had be the very crash he had seen earlier.

The wait and the worry had been interminable, and Pariente was determined to do something to allow accident victims to inform their loved ones, even if that person is unconscious.

Fortunately, the 41-year-old Pariente knows his way around software development as a long-time space systems engineer who worked for Israel Aerospace Industries for 16 years and was the chief engineer for the Amos 3 satellite.

What device would drivers have with them at all times that might be able to sense an accident, he wondered? That was easy: a cell phone. And how would the phone know when a driver was in trouble?

Given that Apple’s iPhone remains the hottest and fastest-growing mobile device around, Pariente began to delve into its specs. “I quickly realized that Apple had built this amazing piece of hardware with built-in GPS and very high-precision accelerometers,” Pariente says. Those accelerometers can judge how fast something – like a car – is traveling, and if there is a sudden change in speed.

The math is a little complicated. “A typical car accident is measured by an impact of 5G for more than 50 milliseconds,” Pariente explains. By comparison, the earth exerts a gravitational pull of 1G, while a fighter pilot can travel at speeds generating 7G of force.

Once Pariente knew he could measure when an accident had occurred, it was relatively simple to create an app that would send a message to a pre-determined email address or generate up to 50 SMS (short message service) messages to loved ones informing them there had been a collision. The app – known as MayDay – went live on February 22, after six months of development and is now available on the Apple app store.

Works anywhere in the world

Activated with a big on/off button, MayDay doesn’t send its message until 60 seconds pass, giving the driver plenty of time to turn it off if it’s been triggered in error. It makes quite a ruckus, flashing and generating a warning tone that makes it hard to ignore.

Another safety precaution: if the vehicle is going under 30 miles an hour, it won’t work. That can be adjusted in case a user wants the app to trigger during, say, a fall while walking or biking. Pariente developed this feature after a man who requires a defibrillator contacted him and explained that he really enjoys walking on the beach but, since he never knows when he may have some sort of disruptive heart incident, he always needs to take along a chaperone. MayDay has given the man a new sense of freedom, Pariente says proudly.

Despite its life-saving potential, Pariente developed MayDay as a hobby, and it shows: Only 260 copies of the app have been downloaded, all of them a “light” version that costs $1.99 and sends emails but not SMS’s.

Pariente considers SMS the killer feature, no pun intended. The pro version of MayDay, which costs $4.99, just went live in mid-May and includes 50 prepaid SMS’s.

The app works anywhere in the world. “You can be traveling in Thailand and if you’re in an accident, your friends will know it,” Pariente says. Surprisingly, the country with the third most downloads is Saudi Arabia. “Apparently they don’t know it’s an Israeli-made app.”

Raising MayDay’s visibility

MayDay suffers from an inherent lack of buzz. “It’s not a game or a cool app,” Pariente says. “It’s more like an insurance policy which you buy but hope to never use.”

Meidad Pariente
Meidad Pariente invented the emergency app after his brother was in a car accident.

Pariente’s best bet could be to weave the app’s functionality into a larger software or hardware offering, such as a dedicated GPS navigation device. An even more promising alternative would be to integrate MayDay with 911 emergency services, so that Magen David Adom or the Red Cross would be alerted immediately if there’s a crash.

“Statistics show that if medical help reaches a person within an hour, the chances are high that the person will survive, no matter the severity of the injuries,” Pariente explains. He will be presenting the app publicly for the first time at a conference later this month organized by Israel Transport Systems and the non-profit Or Yarok (Green Light).

In the meantime, Pariente has his hands full running the Hod Hasharon-based consulting company Spacecialist, which specializes in space industry “insurance.” It’s COO, space engineer Maya Glickman, is his wife. “We’re the only husband and wife team in Israel both working in the space industry,” he says.

Pariente’s brother, by the way, has fully recovered from his accident and is back at work – undoubtedly with MayDay now installed on his iPhone.

About Brian Blum

Brian has been a journalist and high-tech entrepreneur for over 20 years. He combines this expertise for ISRAEL21c and Israelity as he writes about hot new local startups, pharmaceutical advances, scientific discoveries, culture, the arts and daily life in Israel. He loves hiking the country with his family (and blogging about it). Originally from California, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three children.