Estimates published by the World Health Organization indicate that about 1 in 3 women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. It’s a global problem, yet women around the world lack an affordable, reliable way to access emergency help in situations where they feel endangered or at risk occur.
Emily Randolph and a team of students at Lehigh University are working on possible solution, a small device called Soterra. The name is a combination of Soteria, the Greek goddess of safety and Terra, the Roman goddess of the earth.
“Think of three women you know. The statistics unfortunately say that one of them would be a survivor of a sexual assault attack and even worse, somewhere from 80 to 90 percent of these women know their attackers. And it’s not just some random stranger. This is someone that they know, they’ve developed a relationship with, which makes it even more difficult in situations to call for help.”
Sexual and domestic violence often happens behind closed doors, so the Soterra device is designed to be an invisible bystander, particularly when no one else present. The device has two options. If a user presses it 3 times, it activates a red alert, which goes to the police. If a user doesn’t want to get the police involved, she can press the device 2 times to activate a yellow alert that goes to a preselected set of personal contacts. In either scenario, the device will send three quick vibrations to notify the user that help has been alerted and they are is on their way.
“We wanted to make sure that when you are in danger you get to contact who you want to help.”
Soterra device prototype
Small and inconspicuous, the Soterra device can be worn discreetly or kept hidden in a pocket or purse. Each unit contains a GPS system that has 50 times more geographical accuracy than a standard cell phone. Expected to sell for less than $40, it will be more affordable than a basic cell phone plan.
The Soterra device is being designed to work in areas where there is limited cell phone and internet access. It will be programmed to link with other Soterra devices via a mesh network, meaning it will use global positioning services, cellular data and Bluetooth to connect women to emergency support systems regardless of internet access.
“The mesh network problem was something that professors at Lehigh didn’t that we could solve, but we are proud to say that not only have we solved it, we have successfully demonstrated that it works. That really is a great step in moving forward to helping these women.”
Emily credits Lehigh University’s many entrepreneurial support systems with helping to get the team this far. The Baker Institute Eureka Pitch night helped the team spread awareness of the project, develop their business pitch skills, and win money that enabled Soterra to vie for the XPRIZE. The Women’s Safety XPRIZE is a global competition that challenges teams to leverage technology to empower communities with a transformative solution that ensures women’s safety. XPRIZE judges awarded the Lehigh team $50,000 for further development of the Soterra safety device.
Moving forward the team has several ideas for distributing Soterra. Their goal is to form relationships with non-governmental organizations, women’s shelters, and the United Nations to help get the product dispersed to women around the world. The students are also looking for ways to subsidize or eliminate the cost for women in underprivileged areas.
“We want to make sure that it’s reliable and that it works in universal situations, which is what we’re ironing out now. As soon as we feel confident, we’re going to bring it to market because these women really do need this help.”
Recent studies show that as many as one in three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. In countries around the world women continue to lack access to reliable emergency response systems. Some Lehigh University students are working on a solution.
Emily Randolph: Oftentimes it may be uncomfortable or even scary for women to call for help. So, we took all of that into account when we were designing Soterra.
Soterra is a discrete device that allows women to signal for help, even in areas with little or no cell connection and no internet.
Emily Randolph: All you have to do is press when you’re in danger.
Clicking the device sends an emergency message and GPS coordinates to either a prearranged contact list or to local law enforcement.
Emily Randolph: We wanted to make sure if you were in danger, you get to contact who you want to help.
Faculty and alumni from Lehigh University’s Baker Institute are helping make Soterra a reality.
Emily Randolph: They have been mentors to us. They have funded for us. They have been a consulting resource for us.
The students are confident that with the university’s help they will get the Soterra device to market.
Emily Randolph: We are just so excited about being able to make a real impact in the world and that’s what motivates us every day.
The Baker Institute is dedicated to inspiring and educating the next generation of entrepreneurial thinkers. From the seed of an idea through the launch of an enterprise, from problem recognition through value creation, students are immersed in the process of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. The Institute provides authentic opportunities for Lehigh students from every discipline to deeply engage in the entrepreneurial process.