Peter Isiko and Mathew Okema

Students at Victoria University in Kampala, Uganda are getting practical by putting what they learn in class, the theory, into practice.

On Friday last week, at the first ever Student’s Expo 2017, seven students from the Faculty of ICT led by their Guild President Peter Isiko showcased a security mobile app they call ‘Nisaidie’, a Swahili word meaning ‘help me’.

The creation of the mobile app is premised on the many and increasing crimes that remain unreported due to lack of swift access to security and emergency service providers.

Mathew Okema, one of the seven students who designed the app, says Uganda has about 100,000 emergency service providers but people only know or use the Uganda Police Force.

“The aim of this app is to improve productivity, when we say productivity; we mean the way things are done. The app aims to assist in efficient deployment of emergency services,” Okema clarifies.

“The aim here is to connect mobile phone end user, the person who needs the services, to the service provider. This app creates security awareness.” Okema says explains. He noted that problem with policies that they have enough resources to investigate.

Features of the app

The app has a simple and user friendly menu since it is made to be used during emergencies, a period a user might not have time to maneuver complicated menus.

Its menu consists of categories, account button, chat room button, audio recorder and access to phone camera. Developers are looking into adding video recording option.

“We disabled that camera flash because it would alert the attacker. What we are working on is replacing still photos with a video recording system,” Okema says.

It has access to GPS and Google maps.

The app has been made to bring comfort to the user – knowing that at any one time, you can call for help and there are people to have my back – and it improves flexibility – with this app, you don’t have to call service providers, they come to you.

How the app works

For starters, you will need an Android smartphone with internet connectivity. Plans are underway to have the app on other Operating Systems. Download and install the app on your smartphone and create an account using your Gmail account and mobile phone number.

Peter Isiko says that your phone and app are verified by sending a verification code on your mobile number. Once you are done with installing and registering, in case of an emergency, you can ‘launch the app by tapping on its icon on your phone menu’.

“When you launch the app, you will see the ‘N’ symbol which we refer to as the panic button. That is exactly what you press in case of an emergency situation,” Peter Isiko, the Guild President and one of the makers of the app, explains.

“When you click the panic button, you phone will start doing a couple of things including recording audio of whatever is happening in your environment and taking pictures using the front and back cameras instantaneously,” he adds.

The app currently has three categories of emergencies. These are accidents, robbery and fire. “When you click on any of the emergency category, the app will send an SMS to your emergency service provider or contact as you customized the app. Then they can take action,”

One of the major dependencies of the app is that you must have internet connection much as you will and can send an SMS to an offline contact, but to maintain relevance of the app, you must be online, Isiko elaborates.

In an interview on the sidelines of the expo, Okema revealed that the app is constantly registering your GPS location with 80 percent accuracy even when you have switched off your GPS locator.

“When the GPS is switched off, it switches to offline mode that is how offline maps are generated,” says Okema.

“Because of good offline Google maps, we have been able to incorporate that in the app. We incorporated the coding of Google maps into out app,” he adds.

“If you shift location, let’s say from Kampala to Mbarara, the app will detect that you are in a new area and advise you to download a map for that area,”

“It waits for the new location to be pinged for more than five minutes – which means that you are going to be in that area for long – then it asks if you should download the map for that area,”

When the audio and photos are recorded, the app keeps them on the phone and cloud because of privacy issues. They are available only in case death happens or when police wants to carry out criminal investigations.

Police picks interest in the app

Okema says that they have interacted with police officials and they are interested in the app. “We had representatives of police here at the University when we developed the initial app. They advised us to make it free and incorporate it in their community policing software and programs,” Okema said in an interview.

“We don’t want to make it look like it is only for the police. Some of the services provided by police are also provided by other people like private security companies, hospitals, etc.

So we are catering for people who are stigmatized by police and those who believe in police. You can have police contacts or private security service providers as your emergency contact in the app. Or ambulance service providers or insurance company.”

The app will not stop crimes from happening but it will create awareness, Okema says.

Asked to what extent the app will curb crime, Okema explains that the app will not stop crimes from happening but it will create crime awareness and aid law enforcers in curbing crime.

“Every time someone sends out an alert, it’s kept on record, so this helps law enforces to know where there is a high crime rate and act or deploy promptly.” Okema said.