Tech-based jewellery safety solution shines at GBV hackathon

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A security solution using 3D printing and jewellery to cleverly disguise a panic button has won the grand prize in the second“Hackathons for South Africa: Digital Solutions for Real World Challenges”competition.

The hackathon aimed to find innovations to help curb the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV).

Created by Always Safe Networks, the jewellery is still in development and will be available in different styles, such as necklaces and bracelets. The prototype used in the hackathon is a beaded bracelet; the idea is for the jewellery to look like normal accessories.

The jewellery will be paired with an app that will be available in app stores soon. This app will allow users to add the numbers of their chosen emergency contacts (such as family, friends, the local community policing forum, armed response or the police) who will be sent a message that includes the wearer's location and, for smartphone users, it will include a link to their location on Google Maps. It will use the wearer’s phone Internet connection to stay online, via Bluetooth.

Parts of the jewellery will be 3D-printed to encase the GPS tracker.

Outlining the idea behind the solution, team leader Dr Sibo Tito says: “Pulling out an obvious security device during an attack can result in more harm than good.

“With an inconspicuous, silently-activated panic button that summons help to the victim’s location, women will feel much more secure and it will drive reporting, protection orders and prosecution by providing physical proof.”

According to the data from the Gauteng government from March and April, of the 5 082 GBV cases reported, only 3 400 arrests were made and only 204 perpetrators were convicted.

The team’s research showed that victims of GBV don’t normally report incidents due to a lack of evidence; so when the Always Safe panic button is activated, it records audio and video footage.

Team member Hugh Gosnell said the recordings help deal with victims' worry about “it's my word against his” when reporting incidents to law enforcement. “Providing evidence can be difficult so once the recording begins, it's uploaded to the cloud.”

As GBV victims often wait some time before opening a case, Gosnell says the digital backups help build the case as each incident is logged.

The team will use the R25 000 prize money to make about 500 more pieces of jewellery. The beta phase will help the team make improvements in line with what the market needs.

With Silicon Cape being an ecosystem enabler for tech start-ups, Always Safe Networks has also won membership there that will connect it with developers, mentors, accelerators and investors to help bring the security jewellery solution to market.

The team will receive access to Amazon Web Services’ Activate programme, which includes $10 000 worth of promotional credits for two years and $5 000 worth of AWS Business Support.

The hackathon’s first runner-up was team Oaks for their mobile app aimed at empowering GBV victims. They won R15 000. Team leader Rose Dube explained that one in three women have experienced some form of gender-based violence, but less than 40% of these women seek help of any sort.

“Reasons for this include social stigma, financial dependence on the perpetrator and lack of access to resources. Our solution is a chat-based mobile application that provides support, information, tools and access to a community in an environment free of prejudice and judgement,” says Dube.

Third place went to the Info Titans, who will use drone technology as part of their solution to stop crimes in progress.

This was the second of four hackathons in an initiative between Silicon Cape and the United States Mission to South Africa.

Johannesburg consul general Heather Merritt says supporting initiatives that address issues such as GBV is one of the embassy’s priorities. “We’re pleased that the US Mission to South Africa is able to promote creative thinking on tech solutions to combat the scourge of gender-based violence.”

Zimkhita Buwa, Silicon Cape director, says: “Tech can help change the world we live in and we are delighted to have witnessed so many innovative ideas to curb GBV. We hope all the teams will continue to hone their solutions for the good of all women and children in our country.”

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