The year-long $1 million Anu and Naveen Jain Women’s Safety XPrize will conclude June 6 at the United Nations in New York, as a winning team is announced from five finalist teams who survived a grueling round in Mumbai in April.
The competition, co-founded by Indian Americans Anu and Naveen Jain, seeks to find novel, technological solutions to address the crisis of women’s safety. The prize will be awarded to the team that develops the most accurate and usable technology – for under $40 per device – which can trigger location-accurate alerts for help even in low connectivity areas; simultaneously transmit the alert to a variety of responders and let the victim know that help will arrive within 90 seconds.
“According to statistics from the United Nations, one in three women have faced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, with one in five being a victim of assault on college campuses across the United States – yet 90 percent of victims don’t report the case,” said Anu Jain in a press statement. “We sparked this initiative to curb the harassment epidemic against women and empower them to pursue their dreams.”
Naveen Jain, an entrepreneur and co-founder of the initiative, is the force behind Moon Express, which received approval in 2016 from the U.S. to embark on the first commercial space mission beyond the Earth’s orbit (see India-West story here). Earlier this month, Jain received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which annually recognizes outstanding immigrants.
Teams from around the globe have participated in the competition. The five finalist teams include three from the U.S., one from New Delhi, and one from Switzerland.
In April, 21 semi-finalist teams traveled to Mumbai for the first round of testing of their prototypes. Five finalists then entered the second round of testing in real-world environments, including a crowded Mumbai bus.
“Making it through this kind of rigorous testing was no easy feat, but the results were incredible to witness. With the success of these devices, communities will be able to come together to take care of one another in emergencies, and every person will be able to hold the comfort of knowing that safety is within their reach,” said the Jains in a blog post from the field.
The five finalist teams include: Leaf, based in New Delhi, which has developed a wearable necklace whose pendant can be pushed twice to trigger a safety alert to pre-set guardians. The device – currently available on Amazon India for about $28 – can also let the user share her location with friends, so that they can track her safety on a map. The device also navigates the user to the nearest hospital or police station.
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based Lehigh University undergraduates developed Soterra, which uses a combination of global positioning services, cellular data and bluetooth to build a versatile, reliable and affordable network to connect women to emergency support systems, even without internet access.
“We are, and always have been, part of this competition to get the technology into the hands of the people that need it the most,” Soterra team member Brooke Glassman, a mechanical engineering major, said in a press statement released by Lehigh University.
“[Jain] sat down with our team and talked to us about how much she loved our team and our product. As the only undergraduate team in the competition, this was particularly special and we were all so honored,” said Glassman.
Tsinghua University and the University of Washington have founded Saffron, which is working on wearable sensors and machine learning algorithms to create inconspicuous technologies that improve the safety and wellbeing of women around the world.
“When in a danger situation, you likely don't have enough time to use your phone. We inconspicuously track physiological signals to provide robust alert systems, even without the use of your hands,” said the team in a press statement.
“Our machine learning algorithms are constantly evolving to understand the user and to adapt to his or her environment while providing real-time alerts and communication with the user.”
Nimb, based in Los Altos Altos, Calif., was launched after founder Leo Bereschansky found out that his female friend had been attacked while walking down the street. She had her phone and a pepper spray in her purse, but she had no time to reach them. “The idea of a smart ring with a panic button was born on that day. It is the only device you can use with just one hand when you are in trouble,” said the organization in a press statement.
The company has collaborated with SafeTrek to produce a ring with a panic button which can be pre-set with several numbers, including friends and relatives and emergency services.
The Lausanne, Switzerland-based Artemis, led by Nicee Srivastava, is developing data analytics for wearables and other devices to improve women’s safety. “We capture vital signs, gesture and emotional signals to monitor women's health & safety,” noted the organization on its Web site.
“In today's world children and women need a seamless system for triggering the alerts to the loved ones. The first step towards guaranteeing their safety is to detect any decline in the emotional or mental health due to a bullying or teasing as well as in the physical health.”
Anu Jain wrote a blog post after returning from Mumbai, expressing her gratitude towards all the teams involved in the competition. “As I sat on my flight back home, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment and excitement. The Anu & Naveen Jain Women’s Safety XPrize has brought together people from different backgrounds across the world to work together to help us get one step closer to my dream: To live in a world where safety would no longer be considered a luxury for girls and women but recognized and accepted as a fundamental human right.”