The bystander effect is caused when there is a group of people, and one assumes that someone else will step up and do something about the situation. This effect is real and its implications were witnessed in cases like those of Kitty Genovese, who was murdered right outside her apartment, despite having people around her when this happened. In order to combat this kind of situation, we thought having an app that connects a group of people nearby, so they could communicate and assign tasks to each other, would certainly help the situation. Additionally, having witnessed the party culture at Berkeley, we were inspired to do something in order to ensure the safety of everyone around us, and we think that Upstandr will serve this purpose.
What it does
Upstandr utilizes the power of technology and connectivity to overcome the bystander effect. When an individual witnesses a person in need, he/she can send a distress call through the app, which alerts every individual within a 500 feet radius of the emergency, whether it be related to alcohol, drugs, or assault. Individuals who have agreed to intervene are then directed to an anonymous online chat forum to discuss how to approach the situation. An interactive checklist is also given as a guideline to follow to ensure the victim is safely taken care of. The situation is resolved when its confirmed by 3 different individuals.
How we built it
We took into account the situations in which a person will be using the app and tried to design the app UI accordingly. We realized that an important factor was the number of decisions(clicks) it takes to notify people around you, and we tried to streamline the process. We also wanted to ensure the anonymity of the people using the app and hence, we made sure that when people create a group chat, people don't know who exactly they are talking to, just to preserve the privacy of others.
Challenges we ran into
As a team of beginners, there were only two members who had experience with building apps. Our goal was to build an app of social importance and learn the entire process of app building alongside. We faced many challenges on the way and managed to acknowledge all of them practically. Our product was built on Android Studio and is fundamentally based on the concept of notifying people in the same location as the person who needs help. We started by working on Xcode to build an iOS app. However, we were not able to access location services and push notifications because of which we switched to Android Studio. We wanted to record incidents in a database to maintain the security and credibility of the app. For this, we linked our application to FireBase. However because we needed to store location details, a different part ofthe database was to be utilised which we learnt after several deliberations. As a social impact app, we had to keep in mind the end users and the conditions the app would be used in. For that, we had to spend a good amount of time brainstorming and analyzing different situations that could occur, while respecting the sensitiveness of the situation. Keeping all the restrictions in mind while coming up with effective solutions to reduce the bystander effect was a challenge that we dealt with.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
Most importantly, we are proud of the fact that we are working toward such a pressing issue, especially among college students. We are happy that we were able to use technology to create something that improves the safety on campuses and elsewhere, and are excited to see what kind of impact it would have on the world. Additionally, we are proud of the considerable progress we made in creating the app, despite Treehacks being our first hackathon as a group.
What we learned
We learned a lot more about the issue than we previously knew by engaging in insightful conversations with knowledgeable experts on the topic. For example, we talked to the SARA representative in order to understand the needs of the victim and how we can best cater to them. We also spoke to the Firebase representative on how we could utilize their database to keep records. We learned how a simple and easy UI (icons, bold text, contrasting colors) is essential in emergency situations, like the one our application addresses. We learned to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and work collaboratively toward a goal within a limited time frame.
What's next for Upstandr
We plan to update the app so it has all of the discussed features and implement it in our university. We will then use the feedback to improve our app so it better serves its purpose. Once we implement it, we want to look at ways in which we can promote the app and bystander intervention across other college campuses. In all, we hope to reach a wider user base and in turn, encourage more bystanders to become upstanders.