Companion App Allows Users’ Friends to Remotely Walk Them Home at Night

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Safety tech for women is always controversial. Although it’s reassuring for me personally in the short term to carry pepper spray or other precautions, it’s also frustrating to see tech that places more responsibility for sexual assault prevention on women rather than on addressing the culture that encourages sexual assault to occur in the first place.

Last year we wrote about Undercover Colorsa nail polish designed by a team of college students to detect the presence of date rape drugs in a drink. The product sparked a necessary conversation about the precautions women are encouraged to take in order to not be raped, and the money, time, and commitment we’re told we must invest in order to remain safe.

Now, another prevention tool designed by colleges students is receiving mainstream attention; and although the Companion App has a similar aim to Undercover Colors, it does seem like more of a step in the right direction for safety tech.

Designed by five students from the University of Michigan, the free app allows users to request virtual walks home from friends or family members, even those who haven’t downloaded the app themselves.

If you agree to “walk” a user home, Companion sends you a text message with a link to an interactive map that depicts their progress. If the user moves off their intended course, falls, starts running, etc., the app will ask them if they’re OK. If the user doesn’t reply within 15 seconds, Companion sets off an alarm on the user’s phone designed to scare off attackers and alert police, and offers the option to instantly call the police for them.

Since the app was specifically designed to protect students walking home alone on college campuses, Companion will also automatically call campus security for students at US universities that have agreed to work with the app.

Personally, the most intriguing aspect of Companion for me is the “I am nervous” feature, which allows users to press a button to let the app know if they’re sensing danger. Within a week of launching, Companion’s creators claim that students at participating colleges reported 500 incidents where they felt nervous.

Ideally, a feature like that may help shift the onus for preventing sexual violence off of women and onto schools that might not have otherwise known the frequency with which their campus culture makes women feel unsafe.

Companion co-founder Lexie Ernst explains, “In future, people can specify what makes them nervous and why, and we hope to open a dialogue between campus safety departments and students.”

Companion will likely prove useful outside of college campuses as well. According to Ernst, “Both men and women from all demographics have emailed us saying they’d love to use the app. Lots of parents want to use the app for their children, and some people want their elderly parents to use it, too, to make sure they don’t get lost.”

What do you think, gang? Does Companion sound like a better option than other tools? Will you consider downloading it?

(via Business Insider)

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