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Indian entrepreneurs win $1 million prize for safety device

The group of young Indian entrepreneurs with the $1 million dollar prize.

The group of young Indian entrepreneurs with the $1 million dollar prize.  

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Smart button concealed in wearables can send alerts in case of emergency

A group of young Indian entrepreneurs have won a $1 million dollar prize by developing a wearable smart device that women can use to send out emergency alerts if threatened or assaulted.

New Delhi-based Leaf Wearables was among the five finalists selected from 85 teams hailing from 18 countries for the ‘Women’s Safety XPRIZE’ instituted by Indian-American philanthropists Anu and Naveen Jain.

The technology start-up, founded by students of IIT Delhi and Delhi Technological University, won the prize for their project ‘Safer Pro’, an enhanced version of their earlier safety devices.

“Women safety is a global problem, it’s a global epidemic. A safe environment for women is a fundamental human right, it should not be considered a luxury and yet in today’s world, with so much advancement in technology and innovation, we still haven not been able to solve this problem,” Anu Jain said at the award ceremony organised in the United Nations on Wednesday.

What went into it

Teams participating in the challenge had to create a device, costing no more than $40 and able to work without Internet, that can inconspicuously trigger an emergency alert if a woman is facing a threat and transmit information to a network of community responders, all within 90 seconds.

Leaf Wearables’ Manik Mehta, Niharika Rajiv and Avinash Bansal collected the prize for their innovation. “It was in 2012 that the Nirbhaya rape took place in Delhi,” Mr. Mehta said, adding that it was then that they decided: “Enough is enough. Delhi is unsafe and things are not changing at all. We have got to solve this problem.”

The start-up has previously launched two wearable devices. “We are not saying we have made the perfect device. We are saying we are working on the problem and we are going to make one billion families safe and connected,” Mr. Mehta said. Ms. Rajiv said the prize money would help jump-start all their efforts.

The smart device by Leaf Wearables will also be able to make audio recordings, which could be used as evidence.

Naveen Jain, founder of several technological companies including Moon Express, Viome and Bluedot said that none of the solutions and projects required cell phones or wifi, so even if a person’s phone was taken away, the devices could help track the person’s exact location.

All solutions were tested live in front of the judging panel and in simulated testing environments in April 2018 — including on public transportation in Mumbai — taking routes unknown to the teams to test the mobility and advanced functionality of their devices.

The finalists were Artemis from Switzerland, led by Nicee Srivastava and Katerina Zisaki, who developed data analytics for wearables and IoT devices, which provide a way to improve women’s safety via the ability to trigger an alert through gestures and physiological signals.

Globally, one out of every three women and girls experiences physical or sexual violence — or both — from an intimate partner, or sexual violence by a non-partner, the United Nations estimates. The figure is twice as high in some countries.

The first round of competition had 85 teams, including app developers, technology researchers, schools and start-ups.

One team of finalists developed a device that could “detect a user’s panic, fear and stress” by monitoring speech and physiological changes.

Finalists also included a device “camouflaged as a fashion accessory” that could send hands-free alerts. Another drew on global positioning services, cellular data and Bluetooth to connect women to emergency services. A team from Switzerland, led by Nicee Srivastava and Katerina Zisaki, developed data analytics for wearables.

The finalists other than the winning team received prizes of $50,000 each from contributions by two other donors who each gave $100,000.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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Printable version | Jul 20, 2018 4:36:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/indian-entrepreneurs-win-1-mn-prize-for-safety-device/article24106633.ece