The new locally developed app helps prevent users from losing their phones

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Graphics by Brittney Cheng

A new app, developed by a UW student, tracks its user’s movements, ensuring cell phone users no longer have to worry about losing their phones.

Chaperone extracts the owner’s moving pattern and determines if the owner is about to leave the device unattended,” UW said in a release.

The genius behind Chaperone is UW Ph.D. student Jiayi Chen, who after nearly losing his own phone invented an app to make sure it would never happen again.

“I was in a restaurant and after I finished my meal, I left without taking my phone. I was out the door and heading toward the bus stop when a waiter ran out and said, ‘Hey, you forgot your phone.’” 

“I was lucky, but it got me thinking. What if a smartphone could detect whether it’s about to become unattended and then could alert the owner while the device was still within reach?”

Jiayi made his idea a reality with the creation of Chaperone, which uses a sonar method known as “active acoustic sensing” to detect the cell phone user’s movements and monitor their distance from the phone.

A press release by UW further explained the technology, stating that “when Chaperone is installed on an Android phone, it uses the device’s speakers to emit an inaudible high-frequency acoustic signal. It then detects the echo of that signal – its reflection from the phone’s owner as well as other people and nearby objects – using its microphone. Based on the changes in the reflected signals, Chaperone can distinguish nearby moving people from static objects.”

Although the idea of an alarm going off whenever you move away from your phone may seem unreasonable, the Chaperone app is capable of adapting to its environment. A visit to the library, for example, will result in a gentle ringtone alert from the app.

Chaperone has been shown to work effectively in most cases. The app was able to successfully detect a user’s movements away from their phone 93% of the time in test trials.

Currently, Chaperone has only been developed to be compatible with Android phones and is not available on Apple devices.

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