Last week I was reading a newspaper when I came across a story about how two women were brutally beaten (one of whom eventually died) after a home invader found them hiding under a bed. When asked why she didn't call the police immediately, the women said she was scared if the phone made noise or if she talked too loud the intruder would hear and find them.
This story was very unsettling, and after some research I found it wasn't a rare occurrence either. There are over 3 million home invasions and burglaries in the US every year, and nearly half of those invaders are lethally armed. These victims who were killed by invaders were people: they had lives, families, friends, and they should have had futures too. My goal was to find a way to stop these lethal situations from happening, and to save the lives of future victims.
How it works
RoboCop allows a person to silently and quickly call emergency services without the need to speak or spend time dialing and then explaining the situation. Within seconds of opening the app the police are called and given your GPS coordinates. Any additional information you give the service, such as exact location in the building or your current situation, will be translated from text to speech using IBM's Watson and sent to the police station using IBM Bluemix and Twilio.
Challenges I ran into
Both the accuracy of location and sending out the call quickly were important to get emergency services to the user as rapidly as possible. Seconds can make the difference between life and death in some cases, and we had to ensure we could balance these two components to minimize response time. By allowing the app to send new information as it became available, rather than all at one time, we were able to allow near instant calling when the app is opened.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of & What I learned
Because almost every emergency service call center in the US cannot receive text or non-audio information and home invasions are a real danger, we are proud that our app has the potential to save lives that might have otherwise been lost. I have never worked on an app before, and have mostly just worked in data science. Many of the components and steps in this project were completely new to me, but I didn't give up!
What's next for RoboCop
Using a custom phone launcher, we hope to be able to add a "stealth call" feature that calls the police based off of a button click combination (ex.- power button clicked and then volume-up button clicked four times) so the service can be used without the use of a screen and while still in a person's pocket. This might be useful to those in situations where they need to call the police but cannot due to a person watching them such as during a mugging or a physically abusive relationship.