Let’s build an app that would save lives

Because, frankly, every phone needs a panic button.

Our professor in one of the computer science courses that I’m taking recently asked us to come up with an idea; a solution to a problem that doesn't exist yet — presumably to give us a start with our research papers for next year.

I came up with an idea so simple, it makes one wonder why there’s no —even just a very basic — implementation of it yet: a smartphone app that when triggered, would discreetly send out a distress message to contacts of your choice, and perhaps do some other functions that can get you out of bad (and maybe even life-threatening) situations.

Image credit: http://www.Jimmyakin.com

The inspiration

I recently read about a kidnapping in Ateneo De Manila University, a school very close to my own, the University of the Philippines. (Read about the incident here.) It got me thinking: the victim had been held captive for a considerably long time, and at the first few hours of her captivity, she had her smartphone with her — an iPhone, if I remember correctly — or at least within reach. Her parents, on the other end of the story, spent hours trying to track her down, and were virtually helpless even with the assistance of the police anti-kidnapping group.

A solution, were proper things in place, was there all along. It was staring at everybody right in the face. Remember the smartphone? If only she had the right app, she might have been saved much earlier (spoiler: the abductors actually released her in the end) and her family would have been saved much of the trouble.

That said, what could we do?

Proposed solution: a smartphone panic button

Image credit: http://www.macrobusiness.com.au

Say you are under duress. Some nasty people are holding a gun to your head inside your car. Or someone is holding a knife to your sides in a train. Or by an ATM. You need something that can be easily activated discreetly, without the agressor noticing, and before he potentially nabs your smartphone away.

Now think: an app that can be a) gesture-activated or b) voice activated, that would send out distress messages to some of your contacts, including your current GPS location (long/lat, nearest computed landmark, etc.), and maybe even quietly upload these data to Facebook or send them to registered respondents. The other features are limitless. A snapshot of the agressor as you hand the phone to him (or her.) A recording of the agressor’s voice. And seriously, plenty more.

Gesture activation would allow you to swipe a simple (but unique) pattern on your phone while it is on your pocket. Voice activation would make it respond to something like Google Glass’ “Ok, Google.” Or maybe integrate a secret keyword to Siri (“Ok, don’t hurt me”?) that would activate the app. There are a lot of possibilities, if time and resources could be put into making such an app.

The Call

We can do this. The idea is simple enough that a working prototype can be released within weeks. And from then on, we can move forward, integrating new features and perhaps, even begin saving more and more lives. I personally don’t have the resources; I’ve never done mobile app programming, but I can learn it. But I know there are plenty of people out there who can build apps way better than I could, and so I ask you to consider this. You don’t even have to credit me for the idea, should you decide to actually make this. Just make this.

Android/iOS developer? Philantrophist willing to shell out to make this project real? With your help, maybe we can just make a difference.
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