Sunaina had landed at the Delhi airport in the wee hours of the morning and was in a cab when she noticed the driver taking a detour. That made her uneasy. He said he wanted to fill petrol. But the car was entering unknown territory and he was refusing to stop.
So she did something James Bond would do. She reached for her glass pendant and pressed it twice…
Sunaina is not her real name, but her story is. And unlike what happens to many women travelers in India, nothing untoward happened in this case. The pendant – actually a gadget called SAFER that can send out SOS alerts – might have saved the day.
“It served as an empowering device. The woman could convince the driver that he was being monitored,” says Paras Batra, co-founder of Leaf Wearables, the startup that makes SAFER.
It was launched in 2015 by Paras, along with Avinash Bansal, Manik Mehta, Ayush Banka, Chiraag Kapil – all students of IIT Delhi and Delhi Technological University. By December it had sold 1,200 pieces. Today, the figure stands at 7,000.
This swish piece of hand-cut glass crystal looks more like a rock to flaunt than a safety gadget. But it has a little button at the back (I told you, straight out of Agent 007’s stable).
“[When pressed twice] an SOS alert enables women to get in touch with their loved ones instantly,” Paras tells Tech in Asia. “It’s like always having virtual companions.”
The pendant is connected by Bluetooth to a user’s smartphone. A user has to pre-identify the numbers of the ‘guardians’ (the people she wants to alert in an emergency) in her phone through the SAFER app.
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An interesting feature is that a guardian doesn’t need to have a smartphone. “In that case, a simple text-based address giving the SAFER user’s location is sent to the number,” says Paras. If a guardian does have a smartphone, they can see the location on a map or even track the movements of the SAFER user in realtime.
The app also lets you find the nearest hospital and police station, so it makes sense to have in unfamiliar places.
Damsels in distress
In the Bollywood movies of the last century, police are usually the last to arrive on a crime scene. To save the damsel in distress, the hero would typically have to put two and two together and figure out her location. In this century, he might get a little help from wearable safety tech!
But let’s not make light of the problem SAFER is trying to solve.
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Nearly 327,000 crimes against women were reported in India last year, and 130,000 of these were sexual offences. Delhi alone saw 2,199 rapes in 2015.
Besides the physical consequences, such crimes also end up restricting the movement of women through the fear they generate. So if wearable tech can even reduce that fear, I’m all for it.
Indian metros are beginning to get familiar with wearable tech, but much of it is focused on fitness. SAFER, however, is jewelry – somewhat like the brand Athena and more fashionable than a simple wearable safety gadget like Revolar.
The Leaf Wearables team was still in college when the company started taking shape.
“I was catching a bus to college one day when a neighbor said it was the same stop from where Nirbhaya had taken the bus,” says Paras, referring to the medical student who was gang raped and tortured in a moving bus by six men in 2012 – an incident that shocked the world.
Tippy tippy tap, which color do you want? You can choose a blue, green or black pendant. But the first two options were out of stock when I last checked.
Incidentally, SAFER’s price also went up from US$28 to US$37.6 this week – but it’s still cheaper than a global counterpart like Athena, which originally cost US$100.
“We are targeting women between the ages of 18 and 32. They could be B2C or B2B clients – so we see individuals buying SAFER for their loved ones and also corporates gifting it to their women employees,” says Paras, who used to be an instructor at Danceworx studio and still tries to devote an hour to dance every day.
Leaf Wearables counts Ericsson, General Motors, and Group M among its major clients. Not surprisingly, Delhi is where it has seen the maximum sales, followed by Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Mumbai. The product is also retailed through 70 stores in Turkey.
The company was chosen as one of the top 10 innovative startups in India to accompany Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Silicon Valley for the first India-US Startup Konnect a year ago. Soon after, in December, it raised US$250,000 in seed funding.
Up next are kids’ safety devices. “That’s what the series A round will focus on,” says Paras.
This article originally appeared on Tech in Asia
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