Afraid of walking home alone or being harassed—or worse, attacked—en route to your destination? Well, perhaps those days are nearing to a close. Students from the University of Michigan have created an app called “Companion” designed to provide college women peace of mind while getting from point A to B.
How it works: It’s brilliantly simple, and uses GPS tracking technology to keep you connected and safe. You merely plug in your location and input a desired destination, before selecting at least one “companion” to virtually accompany you on the trip (the chosen companion is sent a message with a link allowing them to track your every move via a real time map).
But there’s more.
According to USA Today, “Should your phone’s already built-in sensors pick up anything suspicious — for instance, if you’ve detoured from your path, start running, or fall — the app notifies your “Companion” and gives them the option of asking, “Are You Okay?” You then have 15 seconds to respond with “I Am Okay” before an alarm is triggered on your phone to scare off any potential attacker.”
There’s even an “I Feel Nervous” button that alerts contacts if you feel unsafe, and the app keeps track of the location you’re in when you trigger that alert. This information is then forwarded to public safety officials in an effort to help the community identify potentially sketchy areas. And while some may feel like this feature creates unnecessary Big Brother-like documentation or contributes to giving certain neighborhoods a bad reputation, the app’s creators say that police can use this information to better patrol areas where women report feeling unsafe.
I decided to test out the app for myself. My first impression? It’s very easy to use. A clear map shows your current location, as well as an estimated time of arrival via walking distance, and the “I Feel Nervous” and “Call Police” buttons are easy to read.
Even better, the message relay time is incredibly fast. My companion received a message that I had started my trip within seconds of me setting out (below is an example of a map my companion received showing my exact location). I then tested out the “I Feel Nervous” button and my companion immediately received an alert.
Of course, as with any technology, there are some drawbacks. For starters, it is (obviously) out of reach for those without smartphones. And while it may seem like everyone on the planet has one, that’s not true: According to a 2014 study, about 64% of American adults own a smartphone, which means 36% aren’t able to take advantage of this app. By extension, this app only targets those affluent enough to own a smartphone, thereby pricing out lower income women.
It also requires some (very) basic tech know-how. Because this service runs completely on GPS technology, the user must proactively enable GPS services on their phone or the app won’t work at all.
I admit I made this mistake when I initially downloaded the app and did not understand why it wasn’t sending messages to my companion. It then occurred to me that my phone’s default setting required me to manually enable GPS services — which I hadn’t done.
As a prerequisite, please make sure that GPS services are enabled on your smartphone device. Most devices should allow for GPS tracking usage only when the app is being used. This way, the app won’t unnecessarily drain the phone battery by trying to constantly locate the user’s whereabouts. (For an iPhone this was located under Settings, Privacy and Location Services).
At the end of the day, Companion empowers its users. Every person deserves the right to feel safe when travelling, anywhere, anytime. With this service, they can. And while the app’s developers made it with female college students in mind, its applicability is far-ranging: teens, young adults living on their own, travelers and more—regardless of their gender identity—can find peace of mind with this easy-to-use app.
About the author: Trisha is a freelance writer from Boise, ID. She can be found dabbling in SFX makeup, painting, playing video games or just hanging with her two cats. You can find her on twitter @thatdangvegan or check out her blog thatdangvegan.com.