It can happen at any moment, and begin with just a thought.
That thought, a sensation of danger, builds to a rising sense of fear that causes your heart to race, your breath to catch, your muscles to tremble, and your head to swim in dizziness.
It’s a panic attack, and what’s worse it’s happening in an unfamiliar part of town as you’re out walking alone. Such events can leave the 40 million Americans who suffer from an underlying anxiety disorder physically and mentally vulnerable for up to half an hour, making it difficult to seek help.
What’s needed is a way to quickly and simply reach out for help from family, friends, and emergency experts in the immediate vicinity who can render assistance. And, the availability of two-way video communication within such a system can provide immediate context and comfort.
Wearable, Digital Emergency Alerts
The obvious answer for voicing a cry for help in anxiety attack situations like that above is to reach out via your smartphone. The problem is the very nature of such episodes means it’s near impossible to gather your thoughts enough to calmly make such a call.
California start-up Nimb has designed a wearable alternative that requires only a single button press to send a GPS-located call for help out to people in the nearby area. It’s a ring, a rather stylish one at that, which transmits a distress beacon easily activated in times of stress, injury, and physical threat.
Currently in the initial phase of delivery after an almost $250,000 boost from KickStarter, Nimb lets users customize who gets their distress call, be it emergency services, close friends, or family. It sorts these contacts by location so those nearest to you are notified and able to get to your aid quickly.
It even has built-in anti-attacker protections, like a fake cancellation code that lets responders know you’ve been forced to switch the device off. What it lacks, however, is a two-way video connection that could give those responders a visual appraisal of the situation.
Wearable Video Calling
Smartwatches haven’t exactly lived up to the Dick Tracy video calling potential they initially promised. However, they have proved that it is possible to mount a discrete camera within something small enough to be worn without discomfort.
In a commercial execution these cameras have to be powerful enough to render a video caller’s face big enough for interaction, or what’s the point of a social video call?
However, in an emergency situation a camera only has to convey an outward signal that can be displayed on a recipient’s screen of choice, and in turn display just enough of a human countenance and voice to provide a comforting presence. The surface of the Nimb ring seems ample space to mount a bare essentials video display and a pinhole video camera.
Emergency Video Calling
Israel last year become the first country in the world to offer its citizens nationwide emergency video calling and chat. The service requires users to put in a call using their smartphones, so it’s not a perfect replication of the Nimb system, but it does provide emergency responders with a wider understanding of every type of medical crisis, from a child with a fever through to a mass casualty event. They can see for themselves circumstances the caller may understandably have trouble articulating.
The same potential lies within Nimb, with the added bonus that those in distress can turn to loved ones in moments when the emergency requires knowledge of the caller’s history–such as a vulnerability to anxiety.
With a visual element in play anyone receiving the distress signal can tell there’s no ongoing physical altercation, can ask the caller to scan their body for signs of a wound, and just get a good look at their emotional state as played out across their face.
It may even be possible to connect the caller with a friend while the necessary ambulance or police car is being dispatched to follow the GPS alert, so they have someone with them to provide reassurance and a watchful eye until help arrives.
Merging the subtlety and immediacy of the Nimb system with the intimacy of a live face-to-face conversation would provide a level of support those 40 million Americans have never previously been able to call upon.