Companion is a free iPhone and Android app that’s primarily geared toward college students who feel uneasy walking home alone.
But Companion doesn’t want to be just for students. If it catches on, the app has the ability to make entire neighbourhoods safer.
Here’s how it works: you pick someone from your contacts to be your “companion” in the app. As you walk to your destination, the companion can see where you are on a map — a link to a webpage with the map is sent to them in a text message, so people who don’t have the app can still be your companions.
But the app does more. You can quickly report if you feel nervous along your route for any reason. Maybe there aren’t many people around, or there’s an intimidating stranger or scary activity nearby.
Your companion will see that you are feeling nervous and he or she can quickly contact you. Like the navigation app Waze, which lets you keep track of where police or accidents are on the road to warn other drivers, your feedback is recorded by the app. Companion’s goal is to provide helpful data that can be used for local law enforcement to focus on areas that need more police attention.
Companion taps into your iPhone’s sensors in case you find yourself in real danger. The app can detect when your trip’s ETA starts getting longer than it should be, or if you suddenly start going the wrong way on the map. It can also see if you start running with your iPhone or if you get pushed over. Another trigger the app recognises is if your headphones get yanked out.
Eventually, an Apple Watch app for Companion will be able to detect spikes in your heartbeat — another good indication that something is out of the ordinary.
All of these examples don’t necessarily mean you’re in trouble, and that’s why the app gives you 15 seconds to say you’re OK before it alerts any companions and the authorities.
Companion is gaining momentum on college campuses, Danny Freed, the app’s co-founder, tells Tech Insider. “We’ve seen that people have the app open, or they’re using it during a trip, and they have peace of mind,” he says.
Companion was first piloted at the University of Michigan last semester, and the company works with local law enforcement to provide data about where people are feeling nervous around the surrounding Ann Arbor area.
The app is less than a year old, and it was recently updated in the App Store with a big redesign. Along with the redesign, the company will do a marketing push at 14 more campuses around the country, including Indiana University, Michigan State, Vanderbilt, and Syracuse, for this fall semester.
The 9-person team working on Companion is made up entirely of current and former University of Michigan students. Freed says the idea for it grew out of the crime alerts that he and his friends would frequently get. They also noticed that that few people used the emergency blue light stations around campus.
At first, the app only let Freed and his friends monitor each other, but they all quickly realised that it had the potential to aid local police. Companion already has at least one data point in every state where someone has felt nervous, and Freed says that public safety departments besides the University of Michigan’s are showing interest in working with the app.
“It’s been painfully slow,” admits Freed, referring to getting partnerships nailed down with local governments. “But our relationship with Michigan’s state department is really strong and we’ve been working with them for months.”
We’ll start to get some power from the vitality of being on a college campus
Companion is currently in the phase of getting the word out on as many campuses as it can. The company is reaching out to school ambassadors, similar to what Yik Yak, the fast growing anonymous social network does, to help get the word out.
The biggest challenge for Companion is whether or not it can successfully crowd source enough data to make areas safer.
“The real growth should start to come once we have ambassadors on the ground at schools,” he says. “We’ll start to get some power from the vitality of being on a college campus.”
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