911 and other emergency numbers have been a key route for people to contact medical, police or fire services, with some 240 million calls are made for urgent help in the US alone each year. But while calling the numbers is a breeze, sometimes passing on crucial information is far from that, with most of these services built and operating on legacy infrastructure that makes pinpointing accurate locations and getting more detail about the problem (including to determine whether the call might have been in error) is a challenge.
Now a company that has developed a system to improve emergency response is announcing a round of funding in the race to update those platforms.
Carbyne, a startup out of Israel that has developed a new emergency callout platform that helps providers pinpoint a callers’ exact location and enable other services to improve and speed up communication and response times — by some 65 percent on average — has raised $15 million in Series B funding.
The round is significant not just because of the boost that it will give to Carbyne itself, but because of who is doing the backing. Led by Elsted Capital Partners, it also includes Founders Fund, the VC that has backed the likes of Facebook and Airbnb, but also startups that have made strong inroads into working with government and other public sector organizations on data-based services, such as Palantir, Anduril and Deep Mind (now a part of Google).
Previous backers of Carbyne have included the former prime minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, who is also the company’s chairman, and the company has now raised about $24 million, with a valuation that I understand to be in the region of $100 million, although the company is not commenting on the number.
Most of the emergency calling services that are in place around the world were built to be used with legacy wired phone networks. In many countries, however, not only are people doing away with their fixed lines, but they are making these calls from mobile phones — in some cases up to 80 percent of all emergency calls are coming from mobile phones. This means that not only are some inbound calls to public safety answering points (PSAPs) unable to provide the data that the legacy systems need, but — coming from smartphones — they potentially could provide a far richer set of data, if the systems were set up to receive it.
On top of this, it can simply take too long, or be impossible, for a reporter of an emergency to convey crucial information through a phone conversation. (Indeed, the idea for the service was hatched after founder Amir Elichai discovered how long it took to identify his location and other details to emergency services after he was mugged.)
Carbyne — originally called Reporty and rebranded earlier this year to the word for what is now considered to be the world’s strongest substance — lets emergency response providers connect with reporters through two products to fill that gap.
There is an app, called C-Now, that people can download on iOS or Android to provide instant video, down-to-one-meter location data, and lots of other details when making a report to emergency response call centre. (This potentially can include whatever an emergency response organization might want to collect, within the scope of a phone and the data that it can pick up either directly or via APIs from other devices, such as heart rate monitors.) The app is live in 161 countries.
There is also a service, C-Lite, that plugs directly into legacy 911 services, which lets PSAPs send links to reporters to collect additional information without the reporter needing to download an app, and without the PSAP needing to upgrade its legacy systems. Both C-Lite and the app are cloud-based to create more redundancy in case of service outages. The company also says that it is GDPR compliant and uses “military-grade” security protocols to protect people’s information when they call.
Between all of that, the company has also developed technology to pinpoint locations in indoor spaces, and also a platform that monitors all calls and other data (such as video coming from a surveillance camera) at a specific location in order to build a more comprehensive picture of the emergency.
Carbyne is not the only startup that is looking to fill the gap between legacy 911 offerings and the promises of what the next generation of cloud-based communication and mobile technology can bring to improve efficiency in these services. RapidSOS provides a bridge between mobile phone calls to 911 and legacy 911 PSAP services, so that those making calls on mobile can still provide location data. RapidSOS also serves as a supplement that works just on mobile in the event that the legacy system falls over, and it really came into its own during the trio of tropical disasters last autumn across Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida.
Like Carbyne, RapidSOS has some big-name supporters: it is backed by former FCC chairmen Tom Wheeler and Julius Genachowski, in addition to a range of other investors. It’s also now integrated with services like Uber and Apple’s iOS for faster reporting of location.
One of the points of differentiation between RapidSOS and Carbyne is that the latter is potentially a full replacement for the 911 system in the event that an organization was considering that route. Elichai said that there are several organizations evaluating Carbyne now in across Europe, and it is already rolling out its service in Fayette County in Georgia.
But by and large there aren’t many startups looking to disrupt this area, which was one reason why Founders Fund was interesting in backing the company. “I’m looking for businesses that aren’t massively competitive, and Carbyne stands alone in a really unpopular industry,” Trae Stephens, a partner at the firm who is leading the investment, told TechCrunch. “In the world of emergency services, it’s really important for tech to contribute to fixing some of the antiquated systems, and that is what excited me. I definitely looked at other companies in emergency services, but nothing came remotely close to the approach that Carbyne has taken, which is platform-agnostic.”
Longer term, Elichai said that while emergency services will remain a primary interest, there are potential other areas where its technology could be applied.
“We see ourselves connecting any device to the platform,” he said in an interview. “Because of the fact that we have a strong real-time communications platform, we have received request from other industries.” These have included, for example, insurance companies.
“If you ski in Aspen or Chamonix, you get extreme sports insurance. If you have to make a claim, most people ski with their cell . phones now, and if you use Carbyne you would be able to open the claim automatically with evidence from the scene, making checking and processing much more efficient.”