Smartphone app enhances safety of walkers with virtual buddy

A new smartphone application promises to make your walk home a whole lot more comfortable. Thousands have already downloaded the app "Companion" which allows users to have a virtual buddy to monitor their progress.

If anything happens out of the ordinary, the application automatically notifies the user's buddy which can be a family member or any friend. The application uses your smartphone's GPS services and motion detectors to follow your every step. If you're feeling uncomfortable, you simply key in your route on Companion and then ask a contact to be your virtual buddy. The app sends a link to their smartphone with an interactive map.

If a user veers off their path or starts running, or even if their head phones are yanked out, the app asks if they're okay. If the user doesn't respond within 15 seconds, their virtual friend is immediately notified on the other end. The app also allows users to directly call police or report any uneasy feelings.

Assistant Professor Chris Bronk at the University of Houston's College of Technology said this is just a taste of the future. Bronk said the capabilities of smart phones to gather information is both exciting and concerning.

"This kind of personal surveillance is definitely something we are going to see more and more of. GPS works. The technology is well proven. Everyone is carrying a smartphone now," said Bronk.

Bronk said at the surface, Companion seems like a good marriage of using emerging technologies to address existing safety concerns. He said people can expect to see more surveillance applications in place across all types of industries.

"It can be a good safety app for someone working in a new industry. Imagine you have an explosion in a petroleum refinery. Everyone has an app like this on their phone," said Bronk "Those who click in can say I'm hurt, or not hurt, or I need an evacuation. Those people who can't buzz in, we've got to get to those people. They could be seriously hurt."

Bronk said the biggest challenge we face with all this technology is how companies use our information.

"The thing I'm concerned about with all these apps is your cell phone knows where you are, what you're doing, what you read, and almost what you think," said Bronk. "My concern is the back end of all this."

A group of university students designed Companion. As you can imagine, the software has exploded in popularity on college campuses where young people often find themselves walking alone at night.

For more information on Companion, you can visit their website
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