RapidSOS startup hooks up with Motorola on 911 solution

The RapidSOS technology platform provides a direct data link from connected devices to 911 and first responders. Image: RapidSOS

Michael Martin, the CEO of RapidSOS, likes to joke that his company is the slowest tech startup in history, having spent four years working to release its first technology. But the 30-year-old and his colleagues are tackling a problem related to decades-old technology, so four years doesn’t seem like that long in the big scheme.

RapidSOS spent the past four years working closely with thousands of public safety officials across the United States to develop a universal data link into 911 and first responder networks. Martin himself spent a summer of grad school driving a borrowed Prius to visit Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) across the country in an effort to improve 911 systems.

“What we learned is just how fragmented this industry is,” he said. There are 6,300 different PSAPs across the country running various operational procedures and software systems, but no universal data link. 

The 911 infrastructure has been lacking, relying on voice and accommodating only 512 characters of information that are minimally used. 

“Today, when your life’s on the line and you call 911, they’re dealing with less data than what we originally transmitted back over 150 years ago” via trans-Atlantic cable, he said.

He and his colleagues ended up devising a system to link millions of smartphones, wearables, connected cars and home internet of things (IoT) products directly to 911 and first responders.

“Ultimately, what we built is what we call the next-generation 911 clearing house," signing partnerships with major 911 software vendors, and "what that allows us to do is to plug rich data into these software systems,” he told FierceWirelessTech.

RapidSOS this week announced the closing of a $14 million Series A funding round led by Highland Capital Partners, with participation from A3Ventures, The Westly Group, Two Sigma Ventures, Motorola Solutions Capital, Responder Ventures and several notable individuals, including former FCC chairmen Tom Wheeler, Julius Genochowski and Dennis Patrick.

Martin’s interest in developing the technology dates back to a time shortly after he moved to New York City. It was late one night in 2012 and while walking home, he thought he was being followed. Instead of trying to get into a conversation with a 911 operator, he hit Uber on his phone and got a car to pick him up in the wee hours of the morning.

He eventually left his venture capital job to work on the 911 quandary.

Martin, who was named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list earlier this year, co-founded the company with MIT graduate Nick Horelik, who holds a PhD in nuclear engineering. The company now has 37 employees based in New York.

Partnerships are a big part of the company’s strategy—on the order of 48—although few of them have been announced. 

As for direct relationships with U.S. wireless operators, it’s not required but Martin said the company tries to partner with them.

“Obviously, they provide the connectivity and there’s all sorts of benefits to partnering with them,” in addition to their deep technology expertise, Martin said. “We really think of ourselves as this data pipeline between different aspects and partnering with large carriers or various telecom providers is key to that strategy.”

With Motorola, the company plans to soon begin delivering precise location information for 911 calls made from smartphones, and in the future, they expect to deliver 911 caller location information directly to first responders in their vehicles.