Their startup company is targeting students and others who could find themselves the victim of an attack -- and aims to keep them safe with a smartphone device that uses technology to contact friends and police with an instant message and sends a high-pitched alarm to those nearby.
LifeShel's founders are moving quickly to develop their device in an emerging field called activity tracking, and are among a small group of companies that are pushing to get products to market late this year or early next.
Nearly 300,000 people a year experience some form of sexual violence, according to One in
"It takes a serious team and serious technology to tackle a serious problem," said LifeShel CEO
The device -- a high-tech smartphone case they call "Whistl" -- is activated by a single button. It emits a 120-decibel noise and simultaneously notifies preselected contacts and authorities. It connects via an accompanying app using wireless technology on an Apple iPhone 5. They plan to add Android capability later.
Wang and fellow co-founders
LifeShel technology is undergoing beta testing in
All three believe they have a "heavy responsibility" to get LifeShel's technology right for legal and security reasons.
Their target is a spring 2015 release, once the design is finalized, functionality is certified and they arrange for manufacturing. They initially plan distribution online but will reach out to college campuses, Wang said.
So far, with little publicity besides a website, LifeShel has received more than 200 pre-orders. It raised
The CMU engineering graduates have been working since October at AlphaLab Gear, an accelerator sponsored by Innovation Works, a state-funded agency in
"They've hit on a problem that is at the top of mind for many people now," said
In September, LifeShel plans a campaign on Kickstarter.com to raise funding. Wang said LifeShel recently signed an agreement with
"We have been centered to get the product to look sleek and not be compromised by usability issues," Ramos said. "Simplicity is the key, especially in an assault situation" and to prevent false triggering of its notification capabilities.
An early design used a pull-out pin to activate the unit. But tests found the pin could get caught inside a purse, or get tangled in hair if held close, Ramos said.
The case design features a teal-colored strip, he said. The color is used to promote Sexual Assault Awareness Month by
The founders believe important support came from
Obama established a
During Obama's visit here on
Two days later, on
LifeShel's founders each have taken PAAR's sexual assault counselor training -- a 40-hour course, Hall said. "I applaud them for really understanding the issue."
LifeShel has competition in the activity tracking marketplace.
A startup named Cuff in
Another named First Sign Technologies in
Wang said, "The more activity there is in the space is a good thing, because that means there will be more ways to protect our client base from sexual assault."
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