Have you ever walked home late at night and felt unsafe? Atleast unsafe enough to call a friend or family member to make sure someone knew where you were, just in case? In response to this fear, particularly around college campuses, five students at the University of Michigan developed the Companion app, which lets users reach out to family, friends, and even public safety officials to “virtually” keep an eye on them while traveling late at night or whenever they feel unsafe.
Basically, anyone in a user’s contact book can be a “companion.” Friends or family members don’t even need to install the free app (available for both iOS and Android) to be one, and different people can be appointed at any given time (like if your normally available sister is too busy with her boyfriend that night). The user can send out several requests to different phone contacts, who will then receive an SMS text message with a hyperlink to an interactive web map showing the user walking to his or her destination.
But the app is more than just a device meant to deploy online maps with GPS trackers for requested contacts to keep a user company along the way. It also detects changes in the user’s movement, such as if he or she starts running, strays off his or her path, falls, or is pushed, or even if the headphones are yanked out of the phone jack. In these instances, it’ll ask users if they’re okay, giving 15 seconds for them to confirm by pressing a big, green button. Otherwise, it’ll respond as if it’s a real emergency by sounding an alarm to scare off criminals and also give users the option to easily call the police.
Images via Companion
The app simultaneously alerts the companion, who can either call the police and give them your location or simply call to see if you’re okay first. If the user calls 911, the app is equipped to alert the person’s campus safety department. However, this feature is only available to those on campuses within the U.S. that have already signed up to work with Companion. But even people in other countries can still use the app by entering their phone number with the country code. It’ll still alert the police and send SMS text messages to companions in an emergency.
While an app with all the right bells and whistles to keep an individual relatively safe is a wonderful development, its student creators know that utilizing data from key features can better enhance public safety. The app can instantly call the police and alert chosen companions, but users can also select an “I am nervous” button in the app, which registers when and where users typically feel unsafe. Eventually, users will even be able to specify why within the app. The team will be collecting data across multiple universities and providing the information to campus security departments to prevent future incidences.
Even though it was originally designed to assist students walking across university campuses at night, women and men from all demographics—from young students to parents looking out for their children or elderly parents—are all interested in using the app. It certainly seems like the app would be beneficial in a variety of safety-related scenarios.
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