National Museum of American History Acquires Emergency 911 Cell-phone Technology

April 11, 2007

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has received an important collection of early prototypes and patent documents of a pioneering 911 GPS cell phone, the FoneFinder, from inventor Bob Tendler. The FoneFinder system adapts GPS and speech chip technology to cell phones so that a verbal emergency message detailing the location of the caller is sent to the nearest geographical responders by pressing a 911 button. Later, digital technology was employed by the FoneFinder phones to transmit GPS location.

The acquisition consists of a series of prototypes from a brick-sized cell phone to a miniaturized add-on “shoe” that would clip onto an existing cell phone. The prototypes and patents document the early stages of location technology and especially the use of GPS in cell phones.

FoneFinder prototypes were developed by Tendler as an evolution of his Mayday Mike technology, which broadcast a boat’s location to the Coast Guard in the event of an emergency. The Mayday Mike technology was transferred to cell phones using the earliest credit card-sized GPS receivers and, when demonstrated to the Federal Communications Commission, resulted in the FCC Report and Order that mandated E-911 geographical location for all cell phones.

“Cell phones have become an intrinsic element of Americans’ lives and Mr. Tendler’s work paved the way for universal adaptation of GPS technology,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History. “Our museum welcomes this enhancement to our technology collection as an example of innovation and invention.”

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. The museum is closed for major renovations and will re-open in summer 2008. For museum information, the public may visit the museum’s Web site at http://americanhistory.si.edu. For general Smithsonian information call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).