A technology team from Delhi inspired by Nirbhaya has won the $1 million Anu and Naveen Jain XPrize for Women's Safety by developing a device that will send out alerts with location and summon help if a woman is threatened.
Delhi College of Engineering graduates Manik Mehta and Avinash Bansal, and Niharika Rajiv, whose Leaf Wearables team developed the pendant-like electronic device, SAFER Pro, received the prize at an awards ceremony at the UN in New York on Wednesday.
The prize was funded by Naveen Jain, the Indian American technology and space entrepreneur who founded the Moon Express, and his wife Anu.
A total of 85 teams from 18 countries around the world entered the competition announced two years ago and five teams were chosen as finalists and their devices were tested on Mumbai trains.
The other four finalists received prizes of $50,000 each from contributions by two other donors who each gave $100,000.
One of the finalists was the Artemis team from Lausanne, Switzerland, led by Nicee Srivastava.
Mehta said that they were inspired by the tragedy of Nirbhaya, the student who was brutally gang raped in Delhi in 2012 and later succumbed to her injuries. The team wanted to use technology to prevent such tragedies.
If even one women was saved with their device, he said he would feel gratified.
Naveen Jain, whose company Moon Express plans to send spacecraft to the moon to commercially mine metals, said: "How can we go to the moon or Mars if half of us cannot walk outside in safety?"
He said that the idea behind the Xprizes was to crowd source innovation and spur people to find solutions to problems right away.
Anu Jain said: "Safety is a fundamental right. All of us women, regardless of our social and economic status have felt unsafe."
This was a problem around the world and in the US one in five women college students have been sexually assaulted, she said.
Peter Diamandis, the executive chairman of XPrize said that unlike other awards it was not given for something that was done years ago, but to find a solution to an imminent problem.
Bansal told IANS the device, which is about 35 millimetres long and oval shaped, can send an alert within seconds of being activated to the family and to police giving the exact location where the victim is by using the GPS coordinates.
It can also help navigate to the nearest hospital.
Although it requires a SIM card, it is not a phone and works independently through cell networks, he added.
He said that one of their colleagues regularly took a bus from the stop where Nirbhaya had boarded the vehicle of doom.
This focused their attention on the problem of women's safety and they tried to innovate technology to protect women from the time they were in college, he said.
They had produced two such devices before entering the competition and developed the third one that won the prize.
Mehta told IANS that they were working with a manufacturer in India and another in China to mass-produce the SAFER Pro and were also in contact with cellular network operators in India and the US.
It would be sold in India through Amazon and Flipkart, he added.
One of the conditions for the prize was that the device should cost less than $40.
The other members of the Leaf Wearables team are Ayush Banka, Chiraag Kapil and Paras Batra.
XPrize is known for the Google Prize competition it ran for robotic space explorer.
It is now running competitions to find solutions to a variety of problems, from illiteracy and water scarcity to exploring oceans and harnessing artificial intelligence.
(Arul Louis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)