By: Katie Christoff – A&E Editor
Sexual assault on campus has been a prominent issue in the media lately, forcing colleges and universities to reconsider their policies. Some states, like California and New York, have attempted to require affirmative consent before any sexual activity, but, in many cases, this leads to a messy “he said, she said” situation.
But what if there was an app for that?
A group of young entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have developed a tool, which they believe will take positive and preventative action. Through their company, LifeShel, they have developed a smartphone case and accompanying app designed to prevent sexual assault.
The Whistl smartphone case will set off an alarm, record video and audio, and alert police, family and friends at the click of a button by the user. It will be available for the iPhone 5, 5s and 6 in July 2015.
It was conceived and developed by recent graduates of Carnegie Mellon University, Alan Fu, Jayon Wang, Leah Yingling and Siri Amrit Ramos, after a close friend of theirs was attacked on campus.
“Back then, it was her cell phone that actually saved her,” Alan Fu, chief operating officer of LifeShel said. “If her call to 911 hadn’t gone through, it wouldn’t have helped her, and that was something we wanted to make sure no one else had to face.”
Whistl works in three different ways. First, it sets off a loud alarm and LED light in order to draw as much attention to the victim as possible. It also begins recording audio and video as soon as it’s put into action.
“There’s never a question of ‘he said, she said’ if you record the evidence,” Fu said.
Finally, Whistl connects with an app that alerts the police and family and friends selected by the user. If they have the Whistl app, it will notify them immediately, and if not, they’ll receive a text message alert.
Wu explained that the case has a paired Bluetooth connection to the app so the user never has to go to the trouble of unlocking their phone or entering a security code in their moment of distress. The case has a button that allows for immediate access to the app and its safety features.
To set off these features, two buttons must be pressed at once, preventing it from accidentally being set off in a pocket or purse, Fu said.
Whistl has been in the works for eight months now, and the founders of LifeShel developed it themselves since they all have engineering backgrounds. They also worked closely with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape for input in the design.
LifeShel started a Kickstarter campaign to promote Whistl, which just expired Nov. 3. The Kickstarter has a goal of $70,000 and raised more than $45,000. The campaign offered a variety of donation options with different rewards for each.
Whistl was also available for purchase through the Kickstarter campaign for just $57, a significant discount from the $90-$100 retail price after the product debuts in July, according to Wu.
Their Kickstarter campaign generated support from the Pittsburgh community and even earned LifeShel national recognition.
“We owe a lot of our success to CMU’s connections to the entrepreneurship community here in Pittsburgh,” Fu said. “It has connected us with a lot of mentors and potential business partners.”
As for the national recognition, Whistl has even made its way to the White House. President Obama commented on the product, saying: “I think it’s a great idea, let’s see if we can highlight it and find out more about it.”
Fu said that LifeShel is currently focusing all its energy on this product in order for it to succeed and gain more recognition.
“I eventually hope to be able to distribute it to universities,” he said.
Whistl will be available at lifeshel.com in July 2015. It can accommodate the iPhone 5, 5s and 6 and comes in black or white. For more information, visit lifeshel.com.