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Signal-sending chip wins prize for new technology to protect women


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Picture: ISTOCK

New York — A tiny computer chip that sends emergency alerts in areas without cellphone service has won a global competition for technologies to help protect women and girls from violence, from a California-based foundation.

The winning device is so small it is built into a watch and records audio when it is activated, said XPRIZE, which designs competitions to spur technological innovation with a social impact.

Globally, one out of every three women and girls experiences physical or sexual violence — or both — from an intimate partner, or sexual violence by a non-partner, the UN estimates. The figure is twice as high in some countries.

"With so many advances in innovation and technology today, it was unacceptable to us that we didn’t have a solution to help curb this sexual assault pandemic," said Anu Jain, founder of the Women’s Safety XPRIZE, in a statement.

Ending violence against women and girls is one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by UN member nations to be achieved by 2030. "Safety is a fundamental human right and shouldn’t be considered a luxury for women. It is the foundation in achieving gender equality," said Jain.

A tiny button on the winning device, made by Leaf Wearables of New Delhi, India, inconspicuously triggers an emergency alert with location details to a network of responders within 90 seconds.

It costs less than $40. The competition rules specified that the device could cost no more than that, to make it affordable to those who need it most.

The winning designers get $1m, and the award was announced late on Wednesday at UN headquarters in New York. The first round of competition had 85 teams, including app developers, technology researchers, schools and startups.

One team of finalists developed a device that could "detect a user’s panic, fear and stress" by monitoring speech and physiological changes.

Finalists also included a device "camouflaged as a fashion accessory" that could send hands-free alerts. Another drew on GPS, cellular data and Bluetooth to connect women to emergency services.


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