SOS wearable tech: $1 million is up for grabs in the Women's Safety X Prize

Zenia Tata lists the X Prize's very precise requirements
Women's Safety X Prize has $1m for grabs
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"We need to put the responsibility of safety back on to the community. Now we blame the individual for being out late at night or getting on the wrong bus but thousands of years ago we looked out for one another."

So says Zenia Tata, the X Prize Foundation's executive director for global development. How? One way to start is to announce a $1 million challenge as the Anu & Naveen Jain Women's Safety X Prize did in September.

Tata is keen to spread the word about the 18 month tech challenge to build a system to keep women - and ultimately many other demographics - safe like nothing we've seen before.

"We are in the most critical time period which is team recruitment," she tells us at Web Summit 2016 in Lisbon, after talking about different kinds of moonshots on stage. "This ends on 25 February 2017 and on Women's Day, 8 March, we'll announce the teams that have registered and where they're from."

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Now, this is no easy task ahead. The system must comprise a device which can be inconspicuously triggered to contact a community safety network or the police, not rely on a smartphone's Wi-Fi or reception, feedback to the wearer/user that help is coming within 90 seconds and cost less than $40 a year to implement. The Foundation also wants GPS accuracy, not just longitude and latitude but altitude so the device knows if you're in a subway station or on the sixth floor. Lucky then that the X Prize Foundation is "solution agnostic", i.e. they don't much mind how you get there.

The space between wearables and implantables

That said, wearable tech is an obvious fit - we've seen smart jewellery and wearable alarms trickling out throughout the year but so far, they all rely on a connection to a phone. "That's why we are promoting the IoT aspect," says Tata. "It has to operate with a 90% accuracy even in low connectivity situations where there is no visible Wi-Fi or cell service.

"I use that word - wearable - creatively because it could be your scarf. It could be a band-aid type application, it could be so many things. I would love to see something invisible in the space between a wearable and the chip under your skin. What's that intermediary step?"

Temporary tech tattoos perhaps? Of course the groups of people who have the skillset to build a stick-on electronic device or similar solutions won't necessarily be experts at building a community of people able to respond to an emergency in countries around the world. This is, to an extent, not the prize - the system must be able to transmit via existing IOT connections, say, that there is an emergency but X Prize has partnered with Guardian Circle, a free safety-oriented social networking app which has opened up its API.

"Guardian Circle has built this community responder network," she said. "They are opening that up to all the contenders but also any other community based services in India, Australia, wherever they are."

The US, UK and Canada aside, many countries do not have access to an advanced emergency response system as our readers would get when you dial 999 or 911: "For almost 5 billion people living in those countries, you learn that there is nobody to rely on or call, help is not coming."

As well as the philanthropist entrepreneurs Anu and Naveen Jain, the impetus behind this latest X Prize was a combination of the fact that "everyone on the team had a personal story" and inspiration from science fiction down to the idea of being able to predict a crime as in Minority Report.

The X Prize teams will be whittled down to a top 20 after minimum viable products are built by the end of 2017 then full prototypes will be tested by users from various demographics. A winner (or winners) will be announced by April/May 2018. Ultimately, "if women are safer, everyone is safer" so clearly a system could be used for children and elderly relatives. It could also be used in developing countries as an alert system used by hospital patients.

Still, it's a hell of a challenge. If you think you've got what it takes to compete in the Women's Safety X Prize, register your team at the website here.

Calling all problem solvers: $1 million is up for grabs in the Women's Safety X Prize