“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.”
Most women in urban India are no strangers to the worried ‘Text me when you reach, okay?’ from a friend or family member, especially if they’re travelling back home late at night. Thanks to Leaf Wearables, founded by a group of 5 individuals with a vision to change the world, that night-time commute just got a whole lot safer, and a lot less tiresome.
The Role of Crowdfunding in SAFER’s Journey
SAFER’s crowdfunding campaign on Ketto successfully raised INR 5, 00, 000 with the help of 123 backers who have contributed towards a cause at the intersection of wearable technology and women safety. Ladies, it seems like we now have a real chance to truly be independent without setting off a chain of frantic concern amongst our loved ones.
What is SAFER?
‘Safer, smart jewellery’ is how one of the co-founders of Leaf Wearables, Paras Batra, describes his product, an eye-catching, smart pendant — pairable with your mobile phone — that one can double-click the back of to send out a distress signal to your friends and family in case of an emergency. From that point, it’s easy to track the wearer’s location, in case they’re in need of help. The best part? This works on the internet, as well as on SMS, which makes it truly accessible. Paras’ team, including Chiraag Kapil, Manik Mehta, Ayush Banka and Avinash Bansal seem to have really gotten their final prototype right. This small pendant was born of a much larger idea, though, over a year ago.
The Incident That Sparked The Idea
“We started off working on a city-wide Wifi project in March 2014, which eventually didn’t work out because of government rules and regulations,” Paras recaps the journey for us. “I happened to be living in Munirka in Delhi at the time, as a student at IIT-Delhi. I was catching a bus back from there one evening, when I took a look around and realised how shady and unsafe the place, especially for women. This also happened to be the location of the Nirbhaya case.” Paras recalls protesting at India Gate after the horrific incident with thousands of outraged others, but realised at this point, that it was time to do something more tangible. He regrouped with his partners and that was the turning point — they started experimenting with wearable technology to reduce the communication gap between women in transit and to improve the response time, in case of an emergency. It is, after all, every citizen’s right to lay claim to a public space regardless of their gender.
The Various Prototypes
Telling us about some of the prototypes they worked on, he reflects that they had a lot of assumptions that would go on to prove wrong later on, a lot of experimentation before hitting the right note. “We realised that battery life was too low in the prototype that ran on GPS and 3G,” he recalls. “With each idea, we started making a small prototype and giving it to a group of users for the feedback.” Luck was on their side — as hardware like that hardly comes in cheap — and the Leaf team went on to emerge world champions in the Gitex Technology Week they attended, held in Dubai, that year to fund this trial-and-error process, supplemented by success in other business competitions as well.
SAFER: The Present & The Future
The final prototype is a classy, extremely user-friendly pendant you’re going to want to flaunt. Features like SAFERwalk, which enable a loved one to monitor your walk through unsafe areas, notifications in your app about calls from parents or friends, and the quirky ‘selfie’ feature make this an instant hit — what’s not to like, right, ladies?
Urban women in the metropolitan areas of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai, are going to be the first to enjoy this product, but Paras admits that their long-term aim is to make 1 million families safer by 2017. “SAFER is women-centric right now, because of the state of the country and the urgency of the need,” Paras elaborates. “We aim to create wearables for the elderly, for men and for children as well!” As for his expectations from crowdfunding, Paras is elated about the success about the campaign, but admits that his expectations were higher. “Perhaps it’s because of the response we’ve seen to international crowdfunding campaigns, or maybe it’s because the Indian community isn’t ready to pre-order a product they haven’t actually held in their hands and tried out before — we really hope that projects like ours are paving our way to a brighter crowdfunding future in India.” He concludes with an interesting point, “You are writing a success story right now on the crowdfunding campaign which met its goal, but I think it would truly qualify as a success once we sell a lot of our products, and have people use them in their day-to-day lives to hopefully make a real impact on society.” Technology has been getting closer and closer to us, physically, if you think about it. At first, it was on your desk, then your lap — the next step is to be able to wear technology as easily as you would your clothes. With SAFER, the Leaf team has made this notion an innovative reality.
By: Aditi Dharmadhikari