Could Companion make walking home alone safer?

Companion aims to help you keep track of the whereabouts of your friends, but only on their say-so

Companion aims to help you keep track of the whereabouts of your friends, but only on their say-so

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‘Text me when you’re home’ is a common request made to make sure our friends get back in one piece, but a new app goes much further than that. Katie Wright reports on Companion, the invaluable tool using tech to keep us safe

Dialling the first two digits of the emergency services number, ready to hit the third if you sense danger, is a common strategy for women walking home alone at night.

It’s depressing that we have to resort to that, but here’s cause for optimism: an ingenious free app called Companion (www.companionapp.io), which lets you enlist a virtual chaperone, even if they’re hundreds of miles away.

How does it work?

Say you’ve got to walk home from the bus stop late one night. Open the app and set your destination, add a few ‘Companions’ from your contacts list and off you go - your friends don’t even have to download the app themselves.

And they don’t have to constantly keep staring at their phone either, because a number of clever sensors keep an eye on you too.

If you don’t make it to your destination in time, veer off route, fall, start running, or even if you have your headphones pulled out of your ears, a safety check is triggered, and if you don’t hit the big green ‘yes’ within 15 seconds, your Companions are alerted.

You can call 999 with just one tap and it helps to improve communities in the long run, as users can hit a button to identify areas where they feel nervous - the data collected will then be passed on to the authorities to drive improvements.

Originally unveiled in 2014, the app was created by a group of students at the University of Michigan.

“As college students ourselves, we felt a personal connection and need for a technological solution to personal safety,” Lexie Ernst explains. “Crime on college campuses is much too prevalent, and we felt it was time for this issue to be dynamically addressed.”

After gathering feedback, Ernst and co relaunched version two in August this year to a rapturous reception, attracting 600,000 new users in over 180 countries, extending way beyond just universities.

“We’ve seen parents using Companion with their young children who walk alone to a bus stop early in the morning, people using Companion with their elderly parents, or grandparents, who they like to stay in touch with,” Ernst says.

The team aren’t resting on their laurels, however. They’re now working on broadening the ‘nervous’ feature to allow for more detailed reporting and on an Apple watch app that monitors heart rate to detect threat.

In short, they’re making the world a better place.

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