“Never walk home alone.” This is the mission for Companion, a free app designed by five University of Michigan students to keep students safe when they are walking home at night. Companion allows you to reach out to anyone in your contacts when you are walking home, even if they do not have the app installed. You simply select your destination, select your contact and begin walking. Companion will send your contact an SMS text message requesting that they watch you walk home. The text message includes a link to a map that can be viewed in any browser, where they can track your walk home.
Since publicly launching for iOS and Android on Sept. 16, the app has gained more than 500,000 users in over 180 countries. How did a safety app get so many users in only two weeks? I decided to try it out for myself on one of my walks home. I simply typed in my home address, selected my companion and waited for her to accept. It only took a few seconds before I received a notification saying, “Renee has agreed to be your companion! We’ve got your back.” Feeling encouraged, I began my walk home. The app gave me my estimated arrival time as well as the distance to my destination. The app also tracked my path so my companion and I could see where, exactly, I had been walking.
From my end of the app, I had a few options. I could call my companion, select “I feel nervous,” or “call police.” Selecting “I feel nervous” would anonymously send my location to Companion, giving them the ability to see where in the city people feel uncomfortable. If Companion shared this data with universities or cities, they would be able to see what areas people deem unsafe and could work on making the city safer late at night.
If you stop walking for more than a few seconds or the app detects a change in your pace, it sends you an alert asking if you are O.K. You have 15 seconds to confirm that you are all right, or it sends a text to your companion to let them know you might be in trouble and goes into “alert” mode. In alert mode, the phone begins beeping and flashing, sort of like an alarm clock. This continues until you select “I’m O.K.” Once you select that you are O.K., it will send another text to your companion telling them you have confirmed that you are O.K. Overall, the app seemed very simple and effective, and made me feel safer walking home.
When I asked Renee what she thought of the app, she told me she thought it would change how she felt about walking home alone.
“When I walk home at night through neighborhoods, I go through all of my contacts and call someone so I never look like I’m all alone,” she said. “I may be a little paranoid, but my friends like to know that I’m safe. This app would keep my friends at ease, and will keep me feeling secure and safe as I walk home late at night.”
Brittney Urich is a senior professional writing major specializing in marketing and public relations. She is an avid traveler, sports enthusiast, and animal lover. When she’s not blogging or reading, she can usually be found outside.