It’s happened to all of us. You’re walking alone and you get that creepy feeling that someone is watching or tracking your movements. You feel unsafe, and you’re not sure what to do, so you clutch your mobile phone.
Greg Heuss wants to turn that fear into a situation of empowerment with iWitness, an iPhone application that not only quickly notifies 911 but records audio and video of the events taking place. The Seattle upstart, which plans to release the iPhone app later this month, has been flying under the radar for some time now. But the company, which just landed $600,000 in seed capital, is starting to share more of what it’s up to.
Heuss — a veteran of Amazon.com, PerfectMatch and EyeAlike who was recently appointed as CEO — shared the idea behind iWitness with GeekWire.
Here’s how it works.
“Any time the user feels endangered, the user simply touches the screen of their phone,” explains Heuss. “At that point, the phone begins capturing video and audio of the scene … a steady light is emitted from the phone, and the user’s GPS coordinates are recorded. If a ‘threat’ feels imminent, the user touches the screen again, triggering the following: 911 is called, an SMS/email notice is sent to six contacts previously authorized by the user, and a loud siren begins to sound.”
The iWitness iPhone app costs $30 per year, with the company planning to work on an Android version in the coming weeks. It is also developing a standalone device that could be provided to children or seniors who don’t own smartphones.
“The space is wide open, the team is assembled, and the technology is built,” says Heuss, adding that focus groups, including those with law enforcement agencies, have responded positively to the concept.
“No one out there is using video and audio in an app like this so we separate ourselves immediately there,” said Heuss, adding that they plan to market the application to women.
“It is tough for males to really understand the fear that exists out there with women. My wife, for example, calls me every night for those 30 seconds she is walking across the parking lot to her car from her office — just so people know she is talking to someone. Gals in our office actually dial 911 on their phone and walk to the bus stop with their finger on the call button until they safely get on the bus.”
I asked Heuss how the company plans to deal with ill-intened 911 calls, and he said that they worked hard in focus groups with law enforcement and dispatchers to make sure the app only sends out notifications if someone is truly in danger.
“There is a 5-second delay after the ‘panic’ button is activated before 911 is called,” said Huess, noting that ill-intended calls are typically encouraged by law enforcement over individuals carrying a taser or gun. He added that law enforcement like the fact that the app records video and audio file of the perpetrator — something he said was “much better than a vague description that most victims give to the police now.”
The company was founded by David Remer, and is currently being incubated at advertising and branding firm Remerinc.