Walking alone at night can be a nerve-wracking experience. Whether you’re heading out to meet a friend at a bar or leaving the library at 3 am after a long session of cramming for finals, you’re likely walking alone across campus or across town, and all of the crime alerts sent out from Public Safety that you generally ignore suddenly seem very relevant.
With campuses of up to 27 thousand acres, the largest universities in the country cover as much land as a small city, meaning that many students are traveling far distances to their destination. The immense size of many college campuses is the inspiration behind the recently released Companion App, designed to ensure that you will never have to walk home alone at night again.
Created by five University of Michigan students, the app allows you to invite anyone from your contacts to virtually walk you home, using GPS tracking of their location. Your “companion,” does not need to have the app installed to accept the invitation because they receive a text message with a link to a webpage displaying an interactive map showing your location on your trip home.
The app sends notifications to companions based on “Smart Triggers” designed to identify that the user might be in danger based on sudden changes in movement. If you fall, are pushed, leave your intended path, have your headphones yanked out of the phone or begin running, the app automatically asks you to confirm that you are OK.
If everything is fine, you press a button on the app to verify, however if there is a real problem or emergency, the app has two reactions: Your phone becomes an alarm intended to scare attackers or criminals from the scene, and presents a one-touch option to call the police. The app also notifies your companion, who can choose to call you, or to call the police directly and give them your exact location. For universities that have registered to work with Companion, the app will also notify the closest campus safety department.
In addition to the automated features of the app, you can manually identify when you feel unsafe, using an “I am nervous” button, which notifies your companion and prompts them to contact you. This feature is also being used to collect information about areas in which students feel unsafe on campuses or the surrounding areas, and the creators are planning on using this information to collaborate with universities to improve campus safety.
Young women walking alone at night are often at high risk of becoming victim to some form of assault, and even the safest colleges in the country cannot guarantee complete safety of all students at all times. Although it is always safest to be with other people when traveling at night, going solo is sometimes unavoidable, particularly during the time of year when impending finals induce the kind of stress that keeps you in the library all night. However, using the Companion App ensures that someone else knows where you are as you walk, and provides a sense of security and an extra measure of safety as you make your way home.
Image via Grace Chung