Grad student develops rapid-response public safety device


November 14, 2014

Srinath Vaddepally found himself being followed on a downtown Pittsburgh Street late one night. Not wanting to confront his shady pursuer, Vaddepally ran until he caught a cab and made it home safely.

"It was a really scary situation," Vaddepally says. "I got home, and I spent some time thinking, 'Is there any app I can use to get help?' Truly, there was no app, no device, that can alert people about your situation."

Vaddepally, who was working on master's degrees in Engineering and Technology Innovation Management (ETIM) and Electrical and Computer Engineering, realized that people need a way to instantly get help when confronted with unsafe situations. As part of a school project, he and a team of fellow students developed an app that could connect people to their friends immediately. Soon the project took the form of a social mission: to help victims of robbery and sexual assault, and they began thinking beyond the app.

Their solution? AlertCall, a smart key fob connected to a mobile app that alerts friends, family, and police with the push of a button.

"We did research into what people were interested in for safety, and people said a mobile app that connected with others instantly," explains Vaddepally. "Other people said they carried key chains around, so we wanted to develop something people could put on a key chain that would connect with their mobile device."

The AlertCall key fob is easy to carry and interacts with the free mobile app that, when activated, sends the user's name, picture, and location details (via Google Maps) through email, phone call and text message to pre-selected contacts and campus or local police. Users can also send help requests to their contacts directly through their mobile devices by triple-tapping the power button.

AlertCall was first demonstrated in April 2014 and won CMU's Project Olympus Spark Grant Fund for summer 2014. The smart key fob is anticipated to be released to consumers in spring 2015.

The AlertCall team believes that the device will drastically reduce crimes on campuses and in cities by giving people access to shorter response times than they would get from using call boxes, calling police directly, or using apps that require multiple steps to activate.

The project was recently accepted into FastFwd, an accelerator program that focuses on public safety innovation, and will be tested in Philadelphia in conjunction with the Philadelphia Police Department.

"AlertCall will bridge the gap between the current generation of contacting 9-1-1 and the next generation. Technologies being developed by public safety and emergency response organizations are increasingly focused on improving response times," Vaddepally explains.

The AlertCall team is currently focused on rolling out the product in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and it will eventually be available nationally and internationally to help improve safety in communities around the world. They envision that the devices will also be useful in other situations, such as helping parents find missing children or helping rehabilitation patients contact support groups in times of need.

For now, the AlertCall team is working on finalizing the product and generating more interest and support for their mission.

"We're the people committed to improving the safety of your communities. We definitely want some volunteers," says Vaddepally. "We're open to anyone who wants to help us in product development, marketing or getting us connected with people who would be helpful."

Learn more about AlertCall, pre-order the product, or contact the AlertCall team at

Collaboration Note: Vaddepally, an Engineering Technology and Innovation Management and Electrical and Computer Engineering graduate collaborates on this project with fellow ETIM graduates.

Story originally published here.