By Caitlyn Finnegan
When the founders of software development company Totuit, based in the University of Florida Innovation Hub, decided to take on the issue of public safety, they wanted to tie it into the one thing people never leave home without: their smartphone.
So Totuit’s President Jordan Johnson designed an app that acts like a “mobile blue light.” Totuit’s TapShield, and its software component, ShieldCommand, place the user in direct contact with the closest emergency response station with just a tap on their smartphone. Once activated, a dispatcher will be notified of the user’s geolocation as well as information from their personal profile–information like a profile picture, height, allergies and current medications–that can assist emergency responders in not only identifying them, but approaching the situation efficiently. The app is currently available for iOS and Android platforms, with a Windows version coming out later this year.
At a time when consumers use their phones for everything from travel guides to matchmaking services, the idea just made sense. Johnson, a former student government association president at the University of Florida, and the staff of eight are young enough to remember the fear that often comes with crossing campus late at night.
“As sad as it is to say, safety is scary sometimes on campus,” said Lauren Fromin, Totuit’s vice president of marketing and sales. “We want to change that.”
Faced with increasing budget cuts and limited resources, campus police departments are searching for more efficient ways of responding to incidents happening on and around major universities. Campuses have traditionally relied on blue light emergency phone towers set up across college campuses to give students a direct line to campus police, but such measures are limited to certain areas of campus and are useless when it comes to a moving target. “Not to mention they are targets for pranksters,” Fromin said.
The app offers much more than just a distress signal. Emergency timer features offer a blanket of coverage for short trips like shopping at the grocery store or going for a run. Once launched, the timer will begin a countdown for a predetermined amount of time, automatically sending out a distress signal if it is not deactivated with your personal disarm code. Chat messaging is also available for situations when talking on the phone is not an option.
Emergency personnel can install CommandShield to directly connect with TapShield users and slash response times by 49 percent that of traditional methods, according to a TapShield case study conducted in February. Responders can also push notifications of emergency situations out to thousands of users in seconds.
Although the app works best when paired with CommandShield, it will still connect with the closest emergency responders no matter where the user is located.
The team has also developed patent-pending technology, called “Yank,” that will alert dispatchers in five seconds if you pull headphones out of the phone jack while the feature is activated. “You don’t always have time to tap on your phone; this feature only takes a quick movement to notify dispatchers and sound an alarm,” Fromin said.
As the company looks toward signing up its first major customers, the team is keeping an eye on potential partners in its own backyard.
“We want to target schools in the Southeast first, since we have the most ties here,” Fromin said. “Ideally the school would license out the application, providing it to students, faculty and staff for free.”
The team would like to see the technology expand beyond college campuses and into cities and large events.
“We want to put this technology in the back pockets and backpacks of users across the country,” Fromin said.