Your smartphone's WiFi hotspot might double as a disaster rescue beacon

When disasters strike, communication services tend to go down; you can't simply call for help or share your location online. However, engineers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology have found a way to use a smartphone as a rescue beacon when there aren't any available networks. The researchers have written a victim app that inserts an SOS alert into the name of the phone's WiFi hotspot. Emergency crews just have to use a companion app to find you up to 330 feet away. It's a simple trick, to be sure. The big challenge is getting people to use the software in the first place -- the team would like its code built into your phone's interface, but they might have to find a way to distribute their apps in the field. If Fraunhofer's staff succeed in making the tools commonplace, though, you may soon find a ready-made distress signal in your pocket.

[Image credit: United Nations Photo, Flickr]