Companion app finds unexpected success, impresses Ohio University students.  

Tricia Richards was in high school walking home from a friend’s house late at night when a group of men began catcalling and harassing her. She had called her mother letting her know she was on her way, but went a different, longer route to avoid the perpetrators.

When she did arrive later than expected, her mother was already beginning to walk out the door to look for her.

If the Companion app had been available at the time and had anything happened, her mother would have been alerted of Richard’s last location to find her.

The first version of Companion, an app designed for friends and family to track someone on their late-night walk home, was released in November of last year. A second version of the app, Companion 2.0, was released a few weeks ago, Lexie Ernst, one of five co-founders of the app, said.

“Companion gives the walker the ability to put the phone in their pocket and focus on the road ahead, be alert, but also have the security of knowing that their friends and family are watching them,” Ernst, now a senior at University of Michigan, said. “If I go off-route or don’t make it to my destination on time, my friends and family will be notified.”

Companion gives the user the ability to pick a person whom they would like to virtually “watch” their walk home. If the user wonders off path, starts to run or has headphones pulled out of the phone, the app is able to detect the change and ask the user if they are OK.

If the user does not respond in 15 seconds, the app sets off a series of noises to scare possible perpetrators away and gives the option to call the police with the tap of a button.

“I’m in the library until 9 or 10 at night and college campuses are notorious for bad things happening late at night,” Richards, now a senior studying wildlife conservation and biology, said. “Even if it’s just a walk to my car, it would immensely calm both my mother and boyfriend, who I know worry about me walking around by myself." 

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Ernst and the co-founders, all students at University of Michigan and many of them childhood friends, developed the app after they began receiving several e-mail alerts from their campus police of assaults. With knowledge of computer science and some background in how startups work, they formulated their idea and started building the app. Since the newest version was released, Companion has been downloaded more than 600,000 times in the app store. Ernst said their team never expected the app to gain so much traction. 

“The (story) about the app got picked up by Business Insider and that just exploded. We had over 3 million views on it, and it took off from there,” Ernst said. “This was a passion project for all of us, and now it’s turned into a full-time job. It’s exciting.”

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At Ohio University, students can use CATS Late Night for free until 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday. The 15-passenger shuttle bus travels across campus and is available to transport students between any two university-affiliated locations. CATS Late Night, formerly TapRide, replaced OU Police Department’s Safe T Patrol, OUPD Lt. Timothy Ryan said in an e-mail, adding that the Companion app sounds like an “interesting idea.”

For students like Richards with a short walk to her car, though, Companion may be the new means of getting safely from place to place. 

“Safety is a huge thing for me,” Richards, who said she will probably use Companion on a regular basis, said. “Especially in college, you would like to think people would never harm you but the reality is, that’s not true.”

@rachel_hartwick

rh375113@ohio.edu

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