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8 September 2015

Could an app walk you home safely?

The Companion app lets friends and family follow your walk home and connects you to emergency services with the touch of a button.

By Barbara Speed

A woman walks down the street, followed by a floating shield avatar and another woman brushing her teeth. 

This scene comes from the the advert for new app Companion, and it isn’t a bad visual representation of how the technology works. The app texts a friend or family member when you set off to walk home alone so they can virtually follow your route on an online map (even while brushing their teeth). If you start running, fall over, or your headphones are yanked out of your phone, the app asks if you’re OK. If you don’t click yes within 15 seconds, it converts your phone into a loud alarm system. At any time, you can call the police with the touch of a button, and it automatically shares your location with them. 

The app lets you list your route, note if you feel nervous, and choose walking companions.

The app, originally created by five University of Michigan students specifically for campus use, sounds pretty great. Inevitably, we all sometimes walk alone at night, and if you’re anything like me, your night-time safety measures probably fall into the the semi-futile “text me when you’re home!” / “dial 999 and hold your finger over the call button, just in case” category. The app is free, and also lets you indicate geographical areas that make you feel “nervous”, so it can share this information with campus security or local police.

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Unfortunately, Companion is a little buggy – this may be the fault of my iPhone 4, but the app didn’t allow me to select my gender, and therefore sign up, and then repeatedly crashed when I tried to open it again. However, people around the world have started using it, showing there’s an appetite for apps which focus on safety. Here are a few more:

  • Kitestring checks up on you at specified times, whether you’re on a blind date ;or are walking home alone. If you don’t reply, it alerts your pre-set emergency contacts. 
  • bSafe shares your location with contacts, lets them know if you need them to call you, and alerts your friends if you press the SOS button. 
  • Panic Button is the simplest – it’s a single red button which, when pressed, sends your GPS location via email and text to your contacts.
  • Safetrek asks you to maintain pressure on an onscreen button during your walk home. If you take your finger off the button, it alerts local police unless you type in your password.

The only downside is that while these apps would help you in an emergency, they won’t prevent bad situations in in the way that a taxi home, or a physical walking companion, might. But those options aren’t always available – and someone keeping watch at the other end of a phone is certainly better than nothing.